BEREA — The fog lifted, and quarterback Brandon Weeden began preparing to play in a downpour in the Bay Area.
Weeden sustained his first concussion Sunday in the fourth quarter of a win over the Steelers. He was cleared by an independent neurologist to practice and coach Pat Shurmur said he’ll start Sunday in Oakland, where the forecast is calling for heavy rain.
“It was mild. I never got knocked out,” Weeden said Wednesday after practice. “I was conscious the whole time, just a little foggy. Obviously the league is taking these things pretty seriously so you gotta go through the mandated steps and I passed all those. So I’m ready to rock and roll.”
Backup Colt McCoy, who finished the Steelers game by handing off on all six of his snaps, normally gets minimal repetitions in practice. Shurmur said McCoy might get one or two more snaps this week, but the focus will remain on Weeden.
“You get the starter ready to go and you give him all the looks you can give him,” Shurmur said. “He’s healthy, so he goes.”
Weeden was limited in practice but said his brain has healed.
“I felt good ever since Sunday night, got a lot of sleep and I’ve been great,” he said.
Weeden’s greatest pain was not being on the field for the finish of the 20-14 win over the Steelers. The trainers noticed that he wasn’t right on the sideline after his helmet banged into left tackle Joe Thomas’ leg after being thrown down by Pittsburgh linebacker Jason Worilds.
“I was fine, I answered all the questions, I was good, I was just kinda in a little fog,” Weeden said. “And they were smart and took me back there and did all the mandated tests. Once I got back there, I was like, I just don’t feel 100 percent.”
Weeden wanted to return to the sideline to see his teammates close out the game, break a four-game skid against the Steelers and give him a 1-0 start in the rivalry. But league rules forbid it, even if he wasn’t going to play.
“It was so frustrating that I stayed in there with my uniform on and watched it on TV and begged the doctors to just let me go out on the sideline,” he said. “I wanted to finish that one, but it was nice to celebrate with the guys after the game in the locker room.”
Weeden said he was never forced to leave a game during his career at Oklahoma State, playing through a high ankle sprain and ruptured thumb tendon. Running back Trent Richardson said the trainers had to hide Weeden’s helmet Sunday to prevent a return.
“It’s going to take a lot to get me out of a football game,” he said. “I’m too competitive and I felt like I’d been hit a lot harder (other times). So I felt like I could still play. We were just making the adjustments on the sideline, we were just talking about what we were thinking about for the next series and next thing I know I’m walking to the locker room.”
The prevention and handling of concussions might be the most significant issue facing the NFL. Thousands of former players have filed lawsuits against the league claiming it hid information that linked football-related head trauma to permanent brain injuries. The NFL could face billions in damages.
Yet there are many current players who feel the protocol is too strict. Weeden follows the better-safe-than-sorry philosophy.
“If you see any fogginess, you’ve got to be smart about it. You’re talking about a brain,” he said. “All of these guys have suffered serious injuries after they’re done playing because they think they’re related to concussions and you don’t want to risk that.
“I don’t want to be 50 years old and not remember playing in the NFL. And I’d much rather sit out five minutes of a game than risk the long-term effect.”
Richardson doesn’t question Weeden’s commitment to the team.
“Brandon is a warrior,” he said. “He shows us every day that he gets up and comes to work.”
Weeden has some free steaks coming around town after beating the hated Steelers. He went 17-for-26 for 158 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a 78.7 rating. He’s only the third Cleveland quarterback to beat the Steelers since 1999, joining Tim Couch (three wins) and Brady Quinn (one).
“Just growing up looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers, the first thing I think about is defense,” Weeden said. “And to be the quarterback going against that defense, I knew it was going to be a challenge. But you can’t get overwhelmed in the moment, you got to kinda stay the course. They’re a great defense, very well-coached and you can’t let it be bigger than the stage you’re already on.”
Weeden has had plenty of struggles this season – his 13 interceptions, 55.9 completion percentage and 70.9 rating rank in the bottom three of the league – but his ability to keep calm, stay positive and rebound with good plays has stood out.
The first quarter Sunday provided a perfect example. Pittsburgh linebacker Lawrence Timmons returned an interception for a touchdown on the first drive when Weeden’s pass for Greg Little was tipped at the line. By the second quarter, the Browns led 14-7.
“They’re unfortunate, but you can’t let one mistake early in the game dwell the way the day is going to go,” Weeden said. “You’ve got to regroup and start on that second possession like it’s the first and move forward and build on positive plays. I got a short memory.”
Shurmur said Weeden could’ve played better against the Steelers but believes he’s improving each week. He absolved Weeden of blame for the pick-six.
“He made a very good decision. He was throwing to the right guy,” Shurmur said. “Sometimes tipped balls are like fender-benders on the road. Sometimes they happen.”
Shurmur never doubted his team’s resilience following the ugly start. And he never sensed panic from Weeden.
“That’s not the way these guys respond,” he said. “I reminded the whole team to just stay in it and keep swinging and respond. I think they did that.
“I don’t think they needed my reminder though. I think they were ready to go out there and play.”
The same can be said for Weeden this week.