Brandon Weeden #3 of the Cleveland Browns passes against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on September 16, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Photographer: (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Copyright Getty Images
BEREA, Ohio - The playoffs are no longer possible. With two games left, the Cleveland Browns are reduced to playing for pride.
And for quarterback Brandon Weeden, maybe his future.
"At this point I've just got to let it fly," Weeden said. "From here on out, just let it rip and be aggressive, continue to take shots and see where it ends up."
Weeden hopes that swashbuckling style puts points on the board and helps prove he is Cleveland's quarterback for the future despite being a 29-year-old rookie. A good game Sunday in Denver could shape the opinion of a new front office expected to make sweeping changes following a ninth losing season in 10 years by the Browns (5-9).
"I can't think about that," Weeden said. "I need to play well because I haven't played well enough. For myself, for this team, that's all I'm worried about."
Offensive coordinator Brad Childress said Thursday that Weeden has the right attitude: "Like he has done all year long, he has to keep shooting."
Weeden misfired, though, in Cleveland's final home game, a 38-21 loss to Washington after a three-game winning streak. He looked indecisive following two costly interceptions the Redskins turned into 14 points.
"I think you get in the mindset where you're thinking about being too cautious," he said. "That's when you're not as accurate. I'm not going to blame it on being a rookie. That's long gone. It's on me. I've got to play better."
Weeden will need to swiftly deliver the ball on target against the Broncos (11-3). Linebacker Von Miller keys a stout defense that has helped Denver outscore opponents by 114 points during nine straight wins. His 16 sacks are third in the NFL and one shy of the Broncos record by Elvis Dumervil in 2009. Dumervil and Miller also have six forced fumbles apiece this year.
He's good, one of the best I faced in college," Weeden said of Miller. "He didn't sack me, but he got a personal foul for a late hit, 15 yards. I think I kind of still feel it."
Five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas' goal is to help keep Weeden's uniform clean. He knows it is a touch task; Denver has 42 sacks overall.
"It's tough to say definitively, `Yes, they are the best,' " Thomas said of Denver's dynamic defensive duo.
"They're certainly in the top couple of tandems.
"Miller may be the fastest guy on their defense, corners and safeties included. When you talk about the combination of speed, quickness and you put him out there rushing the quarterback at 240 pounds or whatever he is, that's a tough group of talent to deal with."
Weeden has had decent protection, being sacked only 26 times. And though he's thrown three more interceptions than his 14 touchdown passes, Weeden has passed for 3,281 yards. That's 10th best in Browns history and the seventh highest ever by an NFL rookie.
"Numbers are getting thrown out the window now that we're obviously not in the playoff hunt anymore," Weeden said. "Now it's just going out, playing well, getting better."
While he's at it, he wouldn't mind outslinging one of his heroes, Peyton Manning.
"He's always been one of my favorite players," Weeden said. "He's not only a great quarterback, but one of the smartest to ever play this game. He's what every quarterback kind of shoots to be.
"I can't say it's daunting. It'll be fun. I'm excited about the challenge."
NOTES: KR-WR Josh Cribbs won the Pro Bowl fan vote for AFC special teamer. "It means a lot, coming from the fans," he said. Fans, players and coaches votes each count one-third toward determining the 43-man rosters. Cribbs was second to Baltimore's Jacoby Jones at kick returner. Other Browns in top five: K Phil Dawson, second to Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski; MLB D'Qwell Jackson, second; OT Joe Thomas, fourth; and rookie RB Trent Richardson, fifth. ... WR Mohamed Massaquoi (knee) DL Frostee Rucker (hip) and TE Jordan Cameron (head) did not practice. ... Cameron is being treated for concussion-like symptoms. Alex Smith and rookie Brad Smelley are most likely to replace him.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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This was one impressive comeback, even for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.