CLEVELAND -- Brian Hoyer did not like the coverage when he lined up for a key play in the fourth quarter of the Cleveland Browns' 22-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Hoyer remembered the same play had been called earlier and a Tampa cornerback -- he didn't say who -- had read the play, jumped the short hitch route and broken up the pass.
At the snap, Terrance West saw a blitz coming from linebacker Lavonte David. West, benched three weeks earlier for not coming through when he did not have the ball, knew he had to get to to the Bucs talented linebacker.
Receiver Taylor Gabriel was initially supposed to catch a short hitch, but when he saw Hoyer rolling left he knew he could change his route -- provided Hoyer saw him.
Head coach Mike Pettine, his team down a point, heard offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan on the headset lamenting the way the play was going. "Why didn't he throw it?" Shanahan said, his view shielded by the scrum of linemen between him and the receivers on the left side of the field.
It all led to a 34-yard, game-winning touchdown for the Browns, who are 5-3 for the first time since 2007 and headed to Cincinnati Thursday night for a game that truly matters. It was another game that wasn't always pretty, but ended well.
Despite that, for the first time this season Hoyer and the offense heard some boos after consecutive three-and-outs in the second half. Hoyer's take?
"Obviously we should play better," he said.
Left tackle Joe Thomas said one of Hoyer's strengths is not forcing the ball, which leads to taking a sack or throwing the ball away if nothing is there.
"When you do that, you're going to have some stretches where it's three-and-out," Thomas said. "But he's going to make the big play and he's not going to make the bad, game-killing turnover or sack-fumble."
Hoyer even dropped some Phil Jackson-type zen stuff on the media, saying it's most important that he not allow anything that happened before affect him on a play. To let the previous play go, and move on. It's a tenet of the Patriots, where Hoyer played for three years: Get up and go to the next play.
"You want to be where your feet are," Hoyer said. "You want to be in the presence of that play."
Which happened on the score. West picked up the blitz with a punishing block that sent David flopping to the ground.
"He took me out too, if I remember it," said Thomas, blocking the end inside David's blitz.
Hoyer first looked right to Gabriel, whom Shanahan thought was open. But Hoyer didn't throw, because inside linebacker Danny Lansanah was headed to undercut the throw. West made his block, and Hoyer shuffled left behind it. He looked to Jim Dray, who was covered.
Then he looked right. All season, the Browns have thrown across the field for big plays. Jordan Cameron had one against Pittsburgh, Andrew Hawkins one to set up a game-winning field goal against New Orleans and Ben Tate had caught one in this game. This time it was Gabriel's turn.
"It was a basic hitch route and I saw Hoyer scrambling and just broke to daylight," Gabriel said of his decision to turn straight upfield. Hoyer threw, Gabriel said he thought the ball was in the air for an hour-and-a-half. But it landed in his arms for the game-winning touchdown.
The play epitomized the Browns, with two rookies making significant contributions and the quarterback staying with it to produce a big play and a win.
In the end, Hoyer threw for 300 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions -- with three Pro Bowl players -- Alex Mack, Josh Gordon, Cameron -- not on the field.
The challenges will increase every week, starting in Cincinnati, so the offense will have to play better. But 5-3 at this point speaks for itself -- and for the team.
"Really," linebacker Paul Kruger said, "we're exactly where we want to be."