Mike Pettine, Browns giving reasons to believe after 'huge' win

CLEVELAND -- When the game ended and the Cleveland Browns had embarrassed their longtime nemesis, quarterback Brian Hoyer stopped and high-fived fans behind the West end zone.

As he did, he stood in front of a sign that read: “This Is Hoyer Country.”

“That’s pretty cool,” Hoyer said with a very slight smile.

Pretty cool like the Arctic in January.

A few minutes later, Mike Pettine spoke to the media as whoops and hollers cascaded down the hallway from the locker room to the interview room. Not even the coach tried to hide what this 31-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers meant.

“It’s huge,” Pettine said. “I can’t tell that lie. It’s a division win, but for it to be Pittsburgh and the way we did it was special.”

So special it was the biggest home win over the Steelers since 1987, the biggest overall since 1989.

It’s time to take the Cleveland Browns seriously.

That can be a difficult proposition given the team’s history. Eleven games remain, although the next three are against teams with a combined 1-16 record. But injuries can equalize anything. And the Browns have not accomplished anything yet. But when they thrash Pittsburgh something is happening.

This team feels different. Tangible and intangible reasons account for that truth.

Start with quarterback. Hoyer, the Cleveland guy who threw 17 passes. He completed eight. But his rating was 113.0 and he averaged 12.7 yards per attempt because he had big plays of 42 yards to Jordan Cameron and 51 yards for a touchdown to Cameron.

After dealing with Johnny Manziel mania and after an offseason rehabbing from knee surgery a year ago, Hoyer has seven touchdowns, one interception and a 99.5 rating -- with Josh Gordon watching at home. Hoyer has won five of the-seven games he’s started as a Brown, six-of-eight overall.

The Browns have been getting poor quarterback play for so long that when one plays well it’s a reminder of what the position can provide.

Yet Hoyer remembers where he came from and how he had to work after being cut by three teams. Every Saturday before home games, he hosts the backup quarterbacks, offensive line and tight ends to a dinner catered by Michael Symon’s Lola Bistro, according to Bleacher Report.

“There are no cliques on this team,” Pettine said.

Kyle Shanahan’s system is working to perfection. The Browns are running the ball effectively, which sets up the entire offense. Ben Tate gained 78 yards and Isaiah Crowell 77 against the Steelers. As a team the Browns had 158 yards and averaged 4.2 per carry, with both the big throws to Cameron coming off play-action.

Joe Haden said the team was ready to win. It had talent. It just needed things to come together.

Which is where Pettine comes in. He’s a blunt, direct coach who does not hide the truth. Players appreciate honesty, and they appreciate accountability, because it backs up the honesty.

The easy thing to do in preseason would have been to give Manziel the quarterback job. Pettine didn’t.

Justin Gilbert was the eighth overall draft pick, but when he struggled he watched as K'Waun Williams played nickel back.

Terrance West, the team’s leading rusher, was inactive Sunday because he doesn’t do things as well as the team wants when he doesn’t have the ball, no matter that he’s a third-round pick.

Players can see through a coach not being honest right away. If the best guy is supposed to play and the higher pick plays just because, players notice. Pettine does not do that, and this builds belief and trust, which builds credibility.

The Browns have started by winning two close games and losing two. Then they won decisively against Pittsburgh.

In some cities and for some teams that’s a mere 3-2 start.

In Cleveland, with the Browns, it’s cause for something that has been long absent: Belief.