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 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. 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.
While he’s flattered that Harbaugh would place him in the same elite company as the other 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. But you know, from a confidence standpoint, I feel like I’m making some strides in the right direction.”