CLEVELAND (AP) — Brandon Weeden came off the bench after Brian Hoyer injured his knee and rallied the Browns to a 37-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills, who also lost starting rookie quarterback EJ Manuel with a knee injury.
After spraining his right thumb in Week 2, Weeden watched as Hoyer, a lifelong Browns fan who began the season as Cleveland's No. 3 quarterback, led the team to two straight wins. Weeden got healthy enough to play but found himself demoted to a backup role.
He could have sulked or complained. Instead, he fought back.
"Whether I was the starter, eyes are still on you to see how you respond, to see how you react," he said after Thursday's win. "I was upbeat the entire time and never let it bother me. Inside, it just kind of lit a fire."
Weeden threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon in the third quarter as the Browns (3-2) won their third straight and temporarily moved into sole possession of first place in the AFC North. It's the Browns best record after five games since they were 3-2 in 2001.
"''We don't care about history," Gordon said. "This is a new year and this is a new team."
Safety T. J. Ward intercepted rookie Jeff Tuel's pass and returned it 44 yards for a TD with 1:44 left to end any comeback hopes for the Bills (2-3). Travis Benjamin had an electrifying 79-yard TD punt return in the first half for Cleveland.
Hoyer sustained a potentially serious right knee injury on a scramble in the first quarter, and Manuel was forced out after taking a helmet to his right knee on a run in the third. Neither returned and their injuries could impact both teams' seasons.
Hoyer was attempting to become the first quarterback in team history to win his first three starts — now he may not get back on the field this season.
"We definitely don't want to see a teammate go down like that, especially a guy like Hoyer," Gordon said. "He's a great guy and I hope he comes back healthy."
C. J. Spiller had a 54-yard TD run and Fred Jackson had a pair of 1-yard TD runs for the Bills, who could do nothing on offense once Manuel left.
Manuel got hurt at the end of a 14-yard run when he was hammered near the sideline by Browns safety Tashaun Gipson. Manuel walked off the field attempted to get his knee loose on the sideline by jogging and riding a stationary bike. But after having his knee examined, he jogged to the locker room with two trainers.
Billy Cundiff kicked field goals of 24 and 44 yards in the fourth quarter for the Browns, who overcame a 10-0 deficit and were down 24-17 less than two minutes into the second quarter.
Cundiff's second kick with 2:91 left put the Browns ahead 30-24, and Cleveland turned it over to their third-ranked overall defense.
With Buffalo leading 24-17, Weeden found Gordon down the left sideline and the wide receiver made a juggling catch. Weeden started slowly but finished 13 of 24 for 197 yards.
"He did a great job," tight end Jordan Cameron said. "At first he was a little rusty. I think he shook that off and really got us going."