Hoyer knew there was only one way to silence it.
He had to win.
Hoyer and the Browns rebounded from an embarrassing loss last week in Jacksonville by making just enough plays Sunday in a 23–13 victory over the Oakland Raiders, who remain the NFL’s only winless team.
Taking advantage of a turnover caused by a big hit from Cleveland safety Donte Whitner, Hoyer threw a 4-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to Andrew Hawkins as the Browns (4–3) matched their win total from last season with nine games left and stayed in step with the rest of the AFC Central.
For Hoyer, the performance helped fend off those doubters who were screaming for Manziel after the Browns laid an egg and were beaten by the one-win Jaguars. Hoyer claims that he doesn’t pay any attention to what’s being said about him outside Cleveland’s headquarters, but it’s hard not to.
“Being from here, I have enough people who check the news for me,” he said, smiling.
Hoyer finished 19 of 28 for 275 yards and no interceptions. The statistics are somewhat misleading because Hoyer threw a few balls that could have been picked by the Raiders (0–7), who have lost 12 in a row taking to last season. He played with his third starting center in three weeks and Hoyer didn’t have Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron in the second half after he went out with a concussion.
Hoyer wasn’t spectacular, just steady.
“Good enough to win,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said, assessing Hoyer’s game. “He made the plays when he needed to make them.”
The biggest play was made by Whitner, who stepped up and separated Raiders running back Darren McFadden from the ball late in the third quarter. It landed in the hands of cornerback Joe Haden, who returned it 34 yards. On the next play, Hoyer completed a 32-yard pass to Hawkins and the pair hooked up moments later for a TD to put the Browns ahead 16–6.
Ben Tate’s 5-yard TD run made it 23–6, and the Raiders added a TD with 7 seconds left to close the scoring.
It was hardly a perfect performance, but the Browns, held to 39 yards rushing on 25 carries and able to convert only 2 of 12 third downs, will take it.
“I think a lot people only picked us to win four games this whole year,” said Hoyer. “As a team we’re starting to really come together. It doesn’t matter whether the defense shuts them out or whether it’s the offense coming back to win the game at the end, a win’s a win, and in this league, they’re hard to come by.”
As the Browns improved to 4–3 for the first time since 2007, here are five more things we learned:
CAMERON CONCUSSED: Cameron was hit in the head by Raiders safety Brandian Ross while making a diving 21-yard reception. Ross was given a personal foul for hitting a defenseless receiver.
It was a tough blow for Cameron, who had three catches for 40 yards after a couple early drops. Pettine said Cameron will be placed in the league’s program for head injuries.
COOL CARR: Yes, it was another loss for the Raiders but rookie quarterback Derek Carr showed enough to think the slide could end soon.
Carr completed 34 of 54 passes for 328 yards and a TD. He was sacked three times by Browns linebacker Paul Kruger. Despite another loss for Oakland, Carr came away convinced progress is being made.
“You could tell in the past three games, same result, but it’s a different team,” he said. “We’re not the same team, it’s not just a flat feeling in the sideline. It’s not just a feeling of, `Oh here we go again.’ It’s a different mindset.”
WHITNER’S HIT: The Raiders were driving for a potential tying field goal or go-ahead TD when Whitner came to the rescue with his perfectly placed hit on McFadden.
“I just made a play and put my head on the ball,” said Whitner, a Cleveland native. “I came up with a big play, and we needed that play.”
MACK ATTACK: Raiders rookie linebacker Khalil Mack was credited with six tackles, two for losses, and helped stuff the Browns running game.
“He gained the respect of everybody on our team,” Hoyer said. “That guy is one of the best players we’ve gone against this year and that’s a unanimous in our locker room.”
AHEAD: The Browns will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1–6) while the Raiders go to Seattle.