Brian Hoyer grew up rooting for the Cleveland Browns as a young boy, wearing a Bernie Kosar jersey while sitting in the upper deck of old Municipal Stadium with his father.
Now Hoyer is the Browns' starting quarterback with starter Brandon Weeden ruled out for the second game in a row because of a sprained right thumb suffered during a loss two weeks ago to the Ravens.
These are heady times for Hoyer, a Cleveland St. Ignatius graduate preparing for his second NFL start Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Sure, it means a lot," Hoyer told Cleveland reporters. "I think this is the part when you guys ask me, 'Does it mean more?' Obviously playing at home with the Cleveland fan base here, it's going to be special, but once they kick that ball off and you're between those white lines, that's what you've got to worry about.
"Maybe after the game, you can sit back and think about it. It will be awesome, our fans are great. They'll be quiet for us and loud for them. So, it's definitely an advantage.''
Hoyer passed for 321 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score during a 31-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings as he overcame three interceptions in his starting debut.
Following that performance, Hoyer received congratulatory text messages from Kosar, his boyhood hero, and from one of his mentors: New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady.
"That was pretty cool," said Hoyer, a former Michigan State standout who previously played for the Patriots and Arizona Cardinals. "You look down at your phone and it says, 'Hey, this is Bernie Kosar.' I used to wear the jersey in the backyard, to now getting a message from him is pretty cool.
"To see the guys who had texted you congratulations, it's cool to see how many people are wishing you well and are happy for you. My main concern is getting better for Cincinnati on Sunday."
Brady singled out Hoyer during his Wednesday press conference, praising a young player he grew close to during three seasons as teammates.
"We have a great relationship, a very close relationship," Brady said. "Guys that stay at it and are mentally tough, always trying to do the right thing like Brian has done, it's great when they finally get an opportunity to play."
For Hoyer, who attended the final game of the original Browns in 1995 before the late majority Browns and Ravens owner Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore, his focus is on preparing for Sunday's Battle of Ohio against the Bengals at home. He'll have a ton of family and friends in attendance.
"When you're out there, that's not what you're thinking about," Hoyer said. "It doesn't concern me who's in the stands. I got much bigger things to worry about when I'm out there."
Hoyer will be tested against the Bengals defense, whose fierce pass rush is headlined by defensive linemen Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson.
“Right now, my main focus is Cincinnati,” Hoyer said. “They have an excellent defense, scheme and player-wise. There’s not a guy across the board that you don’t know about.”
Hoyer plays the game with a fast tempo, utilizing a quick mental clock to keep up his timing.
“Sometimes, you have to let a play develop,” Hoyer said. “But, for the most part, if you can get it out
‘one, two, three, hitch, hitch, throw.' Usually, that’s kind of the timing.”
"If you don’t know where to throw the football, it doesn’t matter how well you can throw it or how accurate you are. That’s definitely the most important thing in my mind, knowing what to do and make the right decisions. Obviously, I had a few poor decisions last week. You try to learn from them."
Should Hoyer thrive in this emergency stint and unseat Weeden, perhaps he can convince the Browns' hierarchy to go with him as their starter in the future.
“I think any time you go out there, you want to put your best foot forward, you’re building your résumé,” Hoyer said. “In this profession, practicing only gets you so far, preseason only gets you so far. When you go out on the field in a regular-season game, that’s your résumé.”
Bengals' Green has been Browns' nemesis
Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green has victimized many NFL defensive backs with his rare combination of size and speed, and his route-running abilities.
No, the Browns aren't the exception.
Heading into Sunday's matchup, Green has caught 18 passes for 344 yards and four touchdowns in four career games against the Browns.
The 6-foot-4, 207-pounder had 14 receptions for 193 yards and three touchdowns in two games last season against the Browns, including seven catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns with cornerback Joe Haden covering him after being suspended for the first game.
Green has 19 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns this season after finishing last year with a career-high 97 receptions and 1,350 yards to go with four touchdowns.
"I look forward to it a lot," Haden told Cleveland reporters. "If you want to be the best, you have to go against the best. Going against somebody of his caliber, it's a really good contest and matchup and I like it a lot."
Despite the success, Green doesn't regard Haden as an easy mark.
"I feel like he's one of the most underrated guys that gets no attention for being one of the best corners in the league,'' Green said during a conference call. "I'm so surprised he never made a Pro Bowl or All Pro, because he's been doing it for four years at a consistent basis.
"He’s probably one of the best corners I’ll face this season,. It’s always great to have a guy like that on the other side. You actually see where you measure up. He always plays me good, so it’ll be tough.''
Steelers still searching for first win
The Steelers have traveled to London in search of their first victory of the season.
Winless in three games, the Steelers are hoping to avoid an 0-4 start as they prepare for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. This amounts to an early must-win situation. The Steelers haven't started 0-4 since 1968, when they lost their first six games.
"We just need one,'' cornerback Ike Taylor said during a press conference upon the Steelers' arrival in England. "That's all we need, we're searching for one. It's a big game for us.
"We dug ourselves a hole, we have to dig ourselves out. We don't even know how winning feels right now. We have to get at least a win."
The Vikings are in an identical situation to the Steelers, also having not won a game.
"It's a playoff kind of game," Taylor said. "You have two 0-3 teams, you have a lot on the line right now. We better be ready and match Minnesota's intensity because you best believe they're coming with it.''
twitter.com/RavensInsiderCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun