CLEVELAND — In a duel of backup quarterbacks Thursday night, the Cleveland Browns beat the Buffalo Bills 37-24 for their third consecutive victory after a 0-2 start.
Browns starting quarterback Brian Hoyer was knocked out of the game with a right knee injury on the second series of the first quarter, and Bills starter EJ Manuel exited after hurting his right knee in the third quarter. The injuries left 2012 first-round draft pick Brandon Weeden in charge for the Browns and undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel piloting the Bills.
A Tuel pass intended for Robert Woods was intercepted by safety T.J. Ward and returned 44 yards with 1:44 left to ice the game.
The game went back and forth until Billy Cundiff broke a 24-24 tie on a 24-yard field goal with 12:31 to play. On the drive, the Browns failed to cross the goal line after having first-and-goal from the 1-yard-line.
The Bills, who squandered an early 10-0 lead and fell behind 17-10 in the second quarter, began the third quarter determined to regain control.
For four games, run defense was a strength for the Browns, but on Buffalo’s first possession of the third quarter, C.J. Spiller sped around left end and sprinted 54 yards to the end zone. The extra point by Dan Carpenter tied the game 17-17. Until the dash by Spiller, the longest running play allowed by the Browns this season was 14 yards.
The Bills (2-3) went ahead 24-17 on a 1-yard run by Fred Jackson. The Browns fought back again and tied the game on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Weeden to Josh Gordon. Gordon juggled the ball but gathered control before running out of the end zone.
The Bills took advantage of early mistakes by the Browns to jump to a 10-0 lead before the game was 10 minutes old.
Gordon dropped a pass from Hoyer on the second play of the game, and after the Browns were forced to punt from their 10-yard line, the Bills crossed them up with a flea-flicker.
The play ended with Browns cornerback Joe Haden interfering with Bills receiver Stevie Johnson at the 1. Jackson ran for a touchdown on the next play.
Things went from bad to worse for the Browns. Hoyer was knocked out of the game with a knee injury on Cleveland’s second possession. Weeden took over and showed signs of rust early after a two-week absence caused by a sprained thumb.
Dan Carpenter made it 10-0 on 52-yard field goal, capping a 13-play, 56-yard drive. The key play was a 20-yard pass from EJ Manuel to tight end Scott Chandler.
The Browns clawed back to take a lead with 17 points in the second quarter. Cundiff got things going with a 30-yard field goal, and then Willis McGahee tied the game by squirming into the end zone from the 1 with 3:52 left in the half.
Travis Benjamin scored on a slashing 79-yard punt return with 2:20 left in the half to break the tie.
NOTES: The NFL Network reported the Browns feared Hoyer tore knee ligaments. The 27-year-old quarterback was headed for an MRI exam. … With Cleveland OLB Jabaal Sheard nursing a knee injury, rookie Barkevious Mingo made his second consecutive start. … Shawn Lauvao started at right guard for the Browns after missed the first four games with a knee injury…Da’Norris Searcy started at free safety for the Bills in place of Jairus Byrd (foot). … Johnson was knocked out of the game in the first half due to a back injury. … The Browns’ inactive list consisted of Sheard, QB Jason Campbell, OLB Quentin Groves, C Patrick Lewis, T Martin Wallace, RB Fozzy Whittaker and DE Billy Winn. … The Bills’ inactive players were CB Ron Brooks, FS Jairus Byrd, CB Stephon Gilmore, WR Marquise Goodwin, TE Chris Gragg, K Dustin Hopkins and T Sam Young.