Browns rookie QB Brandon Weeden, young teammates have grown since early season loss to Ravens

Brandon Weeden had his trigger finger ready.

While relaxing at home Tuesday night, Cleveland's rookie quarterback was reviewing the Sept. 27 game against Baltimore on his iPad when he came to that fateful moment in the third quarter.

With the Browns trailing just 16-10 and driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown, Weeden hung a third-down pass toward the sideline for wide receiver Travis Benjamin. The throw was intercepted by cornerback Cary Williams, who returned it 63 yards for a touchdown.

"I fast-forwarded right through it," Weeden said. "Didn't watch it."

He's not hiding his eyes as often these days.

Weeden has kept his mistakes to a minimum lately, and the 29-year-old is heading into this week's rematch with the Ravens (5-2) bursting with confidence. After throwing four interceptions in his NFL debut against Philadelphia, Weeden has been picked off six times in his past seven games, and he hasn't thrown an interception in his past two.

It's another sign of growth for Weeden, who has had to learn the hard way it's better to live to play another down than die trying to be a hero.

"You cannot turn the ball over," he said Wednesday, repeating what he's been hearing from Cleveland's coaches for weeks. "You've got to be smart with the football."

Weeden's decision making has gotten better each week, and it's one of the biggest reasons the Browns (2-6) have won two of three heading into the AFC North game with Baltimore. In a division loaded with quality quarterbacks, Ravens coach John Harbaugh believes Weeden, just eight games into his pro career, can hold his own with Baltimore's Joe Flacco, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton, who led their teams to the playoffs last season.

"I'm very impressed with him," Harbaugh said. "You look at this division, there are four really good quarterbacks and that makes it a tough division. He's done a nice job of really incorporating himself into what they're trying to do offensively. It looks like he's really smart, he's got a nice arm and he's got good poise back there.

"He's got a really good feel for the rush and getting the ball out and those kind of things. One of the main things for a young guy is just not turning the ball over much, and he's done a good job with that."

Weeden's numbers back that up.

He's only thrown one interception in the past three games, and the Browns have gone 2-1, beating Cincinnati and San Diego at home. While he's flattered that Harbaugh would place him among the elite QBs in his division, Weeden isn't sure he deserves that kind of high praise just yet.

"I don't know if I'm there yet," he said. "I think he's giving me a little too much. I've got to win some more games and I need to do some better things to help this team out before I get there. "

Weeden went 25 of 52 for 320 yards in the Browns' 23-16 loss to the Ravens in Week 4. He didn't throw a touchdown and his only mistake was the Williams interception he can't bear to see again. But even after he threw it, Weeden came right back on the field and drove the Browns to a field goal.

His ability to forget the costly mistake and move on impressed his coaches and teammates. It was a gut-check moment for Weeden, who wanted to make up for his error without making another one.

"I knew I had to," he said. "I didn't have a choice. I put the team in such a tough spot, spotted them seven points and put ourselves in a hole, so I had to answer. I had to find a way to answer and we came up short, but we learned a lot."

The Browns are growing up.

As he reviewed tape of the earlier matchup Weeden identified mistakes he and his teammates have since corrected. Also, at that time, Cleveland's offense was still trying to incorporate rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon and running back Trent Richardson was working his way back from knee surgery.

"Josh Gordon hadn't really come into his own," Weeden said. "I was doing some uncharacteristic things, missing some throws. We had some drops. We did some things where we're not making the same mistakes as we were making. We've come a long ways and that's encouraging. After watching it last night, it's very, very encouraging."

Despite his costly pick, some key drops and losing return specialist Josh Cribbs to a concussion, the Browns had a chance to tie on the final play, but Weeden was hit as he tried to connect with Greg Little in the back of the end zone. Still, Weeden believes there were some positives in the loss.

"For us to be able to go down to the wire with a team like that with a bunch of young guys, it gives us confidence," he said. "We may not talk about it, we may not bring it up, but mentally it's got to give us confidence going forward. It's showing we can play with anybody in this league and I don't think teams really take us lightly anymore.

"We've got guys that have really raised some eyebrows and really make you stay on your toes. You can't just come to Cleveland, or when you show up on Sunday, you can't just fold your tent."

NOTES: Browns DT Phil Taylor said he'll play Sunday for the first time this season. He's been out since tearing a chest muscle lifting weights in May. With Taylor back the defense will be as close to full strength as it has been. ... CB Buster Skrine, who broke up a fourth-down pass on San Diego's final drive Sunday, is the honorary fourth captain this week. ... DT Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and CB Dimitri Patterson (ankle) both missed practice.


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