(Reuters) - Out-of-favor quarterback Brandon Weeden came off the bench to help the Cleveland Browns record their third consecutive victory with a dominant final quarter in their 37-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Thursday.
The much-maligned Browns, written off by some after losing the first two games of the NFL season, surged to victory on the back of 20 unanswered points after trailing deep into the third quarter.
With the win, the Browns improved to 3-2 and sit top of the AFC North, while the Bills fell to 2-3 in the same division.
In a game in which both starting quarterbacks suffered knee injuries, Cleveland fans feared the worst when Brian Hoyer limped off less than four minutes into the contest and was replaced by Weeden.
Weeden started the season as first choice signal-caller before suffering a thumb injury, which gave Hoyer a chance to shine. Hoyer played so well that he made the starting spot his own but Weeden took his chance to stake his claim once more.
He was booed by the home crowd early on, but the jeers soon turned to cheers as he completed 13-of-24 passes for 197 yards and one touchdown, while kicker Billy Cundiff chipped in with three field goals for the hosts.
“I’m still sticking my neck out for this football team,” Weeden told the NFL Network.
“It was tough. I’ve had zero reps the last two weeks. I was a little rusty to start but I’ve got great guys around me.”
Buffalo’s rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel did not fare as well after coming on in the third quarter to replace E.J. Manuel, completing just 8-of-20 attempts for 80 yards and coughing up a vital late interception.
Cleveland failed to register a point in the first quarter, but managed to keep Buffalo off the scoreboard in the second and fourth.
The Browns had taken a 17-10 lead into halftime on the back of a brilliant 79-yard punt return by Travis Benjamin but the home side fell seven points behind after the Bills scored two rushing touchdowns in the third quarter.
The hosts fought back but the result remained in doubt until a 44-yard touchdown by safety T.J. Ward after an interception with less than two minutes left sealed victory for Cleveland.
It was the first turnover of the game by either team.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by John O'Brien