BEREA, Ohio – Brian Hoyer has done everything — and more — the Browns could have hoped.
Since beating out Johnny Manziel for the starting quarterback job, he hasn't looked back. Hoyer leads the NFL in yards per completion, has delivered in the clutch and is now stoking debate about whether he should be the club's future franchise QB, rather than Manziel.
"It can be a distraction, if we allow it to be," Browns coach Mike Pettine said Wednesday. "To me, that's generated externally, and internally we're focused on the task at hand."
Hoyer's agent said earlier this week that Manziel's presence on the team would not be a factor in Hoyer's contract negotiations, after Hoyer said earlier in the day that his priorities include staying in Cleveland, where he's from, and playing somewhere where he can be on the field.
Pettine calls the outside chatter surrounding Hoyer's free agency after this season a product of the team's success. He says it will test its ability to stay focused.
Cleveland's next test occurs Sunday in Jacksonville, where it will seek to win its third straight game. The Browns (3-2) face Oakland after that. The Jaguars and Raiders are the only two teams left in the NFL without a win.
The 29-year-old Hoyer is in the midst of a career season for his hometown team and 6-2 in starts for the Browns. He engineered the biggest road comeback in NFL history — from 25 points down — in a 29-28 win at Tennessee on Oct. 5, then helped the Browns easily defeat archrival Pittsburgh 31-10 last week.
The former Patriots backup leads the league in average yards per completion (13.6), while throwing for 1,224 yards, seven touchdowns, one interception and a fine 99.5 passer rating.
"It's the same Brian Hoyer we saw last year before he got hurt (tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament)," tackle Joe Thomas said. "He makes all the throws, makes good reads, doesn't turn the ball over, and makes every player better. Those are the qualities you want from a quarterback, and we're happy he's ours."
Hoyer, whose current pact is worth nearly $2 million, credits the innovative offense of coordinator Kyle Shanahan for his success. He praised Shanahan for designing plays that fit the talent on the team, not forcing the players to adapt to his scheme.
"Kyle does a great job marrying things together," Hoyer said. "The longer we go, the more opportunities we'll have to improve. We see what we're capable of as a group, and the best part is we can still get better in every area."
Guard John Greco believes the entire team is focused on the present, not wondering who its starting quarterback will be in 2015. He hopes Hoyer continues his high level of play, noting it has gone hand in hand with Cleveland's emergence as one of the league's pleasant surprises.
"Obviously, the better Brian plays, the more value he has, and that's how contracts in the NFL work," Greco said. "But whether he's making $10 million a year or the league minimum, I'd still have to protect him. I don't care how big a guy's contract is, they're going to put the best guy on the field — and they don't come much better than Brian right now."
NOTES: Browns C Alex Mack (left fibula) will undergo potential season-ending surgery to repair his broken left leg Thursday in North Carolina, but remains on the active roster. The two-time Pro Bowl selection was injured Sunday while run-blocking in the second quarter against Pittsburgh. . Pettine said Clemson WR Sammy Watkins would have been Cleveland's choice with the fourth overall draft pick, had it not been traded to Buffalo. "There wasn't any quarterback in the discussion for us at four," he said.