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CLEVELAND – Brian Hoyer's days were already numbered. Now, they might be up.
Hoyer possibly started his final game for Cleveland after the Browns had their playoff hopes damaged Sunday with a 25-24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Andrew Luck threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton with 32 seconds left to rally the Colts (9-4), who trailed 21-7 in the third quarter but came back to hand the Browns (7-6) a loss that could also signal the end of Hoyer's stay as Cleveland's starting quarterback.
Hoyer managed to hold off rookie Johnny Manziel last week. But after failing to take advantage of favorable field position throughout the game and having another shaky performance, it's safe to bet the Browns are on the verge of yet another change.
"It's just disappointing," Hoyer said afterward. "What a great opportunity we just blew. We've got to regroup and move on to next week. There are three games left. I don't know exactly what the situation is, but we'll learn from it, find out what the mistakes are and fix them."
He may not get the chance.
Browns coach Mike Pettine decided last week to stick with Hoyer because the Browns were still in the playoff hunt, and he had gotten them there. Although the Browns haven't been eliminated, their postseason chances took a significant blow. Pettine and his staff may feel it's time see if Manziel, the highly touted first-round pick, is indeed the answer for the future.
Pettine dodged the quarterback issue following the game.
"I haven't even thought about it, so it's something we'll get together and discuss at some point," he said. "It's too fresh after this one to think forward."
Hoyer finished 14 of 31 for 140 yards and had two interceptions, the second coming on a long throw on the game's final play.
Cleveland's was a mess after halftime as the Browns gained just 61 yards and picked up three first downs. The Browns went three-and-out on their first three series in the second half and punted five times; they could not come up with the play to put the Colts away.
They wasted a strong effort by their defense as Cleveland got a fumble recovery by linebacker Craig Robertson for a touchdown and rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert, a disappointment for much of the season, returned an interception 23 yards for a TD in the third quarter to put the Browns up 21-7.
Browns kicker Billy Cundiff had another rough day. He missed a 40-yard field goal in the first half and has now missed an attempt in five straight games.
It added up to a disappointing day that began so promisingly after Desmond Bryant and Paul Kruger separated Luck from the ball in the first quarter and Robertson pounced on it to put the Browns ahead 7-0.
Hoyer, though, never got the offense going, and even though the Browns were up by 14 in the third quarter, Cleveland fans had this impending sense of doom.
Sure enough, Luck drove the Colts 90 yards in the final minutes, helped by a questionable pass interference call against Browns cornerback Buster Skrine. The Browns also had Colts running back Daniel "Boom" Herron stopped on a fourth-and-1 play with 44 seconds left, but he spun off the pile and picked up the first down.
"It's frustrating," Kruger said. "But this is a team game and we're all one. This is a situation where we (as a defense) could've won the game on that last drive, so it's highly disappointing."
Hoyer nearly got the Browns into position for a last-second field goal try. His deep throw down the left side went off the hands of Josh Gordon with 28 seconds left. It was another miss between Hoyer and Gordon, who have rarely been in sync over the past three weeks. Hoyer's final heave downfield was intercepted by Josh Gordy.
Hoyer expects to start next week against Cincinnati, adding "nothing has been said" to him about a change.
This time, one seems inevitable.
NOTES: The Browns forced four turnovers — two interception, two fumbles — for the second time this season. ... Rookie Isaiah Crowell had a 9-yard TD run in the first half, Cleveland's 16th TD rushing this season. They had four a year ago. ... CB K'Waun Williams sustained a hamstring injury in the first half and did not return. ... Gordon caught a 9-yard pass on Cleveland's first play and had just one more reception.
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