The Cleveland Browns are expected to look to quarterback Brandon Weeden to lead them the rest of the way after Brian Hoyer's season-ending injury. The Detroit Lions are hoping they don't have the difficult task of trying to replace All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson for a second straight week.
The Browns will try to remain in first place in the AFC North by earning a fourth straight win for the first time in four seasons Sunday against the visiting Lions.
Cleveland had a fine story going with Ohio native and Browns fan Hoyer leading the team to a pair of victories after an 0-2 start under Weeden. That ended when the fifth-year journeyman tore a knee ligament while running for a first down in the opening quarter against Buffalo last Thursday night.
Weeden came in to lead Cleveland (3-2) to a 37-24 victory and helped it grab a share of first place for the first time since Week 9 in 1995. The franchise left for Baltimore after that season and the NFL wouldn't return to Cleveland until 1999.
"It's good, but we're not overjoyed," safety T.J. Ward said. "We're not celebrating and that's what I like about us. We're staying grounded and we're focused on the next win and the next team."
Weeden will try to lead the Browns to their first four-game win streak since Dec. 10, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010. The team's first-round draft pick in 2012 has played in 18 games but appeared to have lost his starting job after spraining his right thumb in a 14-6 loss to Baltimore on Sept. 15.
"I think that he has a sense of confidence of what he's been able to do. We'll get him back out there for another week of practice, and I think that will help him get better and get ready to play even more so," coach Rod Chudzinski said.
Weeden is banking on Josh Gordon to help him over the next few weeks. The second-year receiver has 18 catches for 303 yards and two touchdowns during the win streak, and Chudzinski said the franchise has no plans to trade him.
The Lions' Matthew Stafford would love to see one of his top targets on the field this week. Johnson was forced to sit out last Sunday's 22-9 loss to Green Bay because of an injured right knee, and his status is unclear for this week.
Detroit (3-2) failed to score 21 or more points for the first time this season last week, and Reggie Bush rushed for 44 yards after gaining a season-high 139 in a 40-32 win over Chicago on Sept. 29.
Stafford was also sacked a career high-tying five times.
"We have to have guys step up," he said. "I have to play better. As an offense, we know we have to play better."
Detroit receiver Nate Burleson is expected to miss a third straight game because of a broken left arm that was suffered in a car accident.
"Both of those, Calvin and Nate, are great players and Calvin might be one of the greatest, if not the greatest of all-time," said receiver Kris Durham, who scored Detroit's lone touchdown against Green Bay. "We just have to figure out how to make some plays for Matt because he's standing back there with a lot of pressure in his face."
The Lions could face more pressure, as the Browns are tied for third in the league with 18 sacks and are fourth with 301.8 yards allowed per game.
"We've got to right our ship up front, which we will. We've got to figure out how to run against this good Cleveland defense and we need to keep Matt standing up because they're good at sacks, too," guard Rob Sims said.
Stafford managed to stay upright enough in the previous matchup with Cleveland to lead Detroit to a thrilling win. He connected with Brandon Pettigrew on a 1-yard touchdown as time expired in a 38-37 victory Nov. 22, 2009.
The Lions are making their first trip to Cleveland since a 13-10 victory Oct. 23, 2005. Detroit has won 17 of 22 all-time meetings, including the playoffs.
The Associated Press News Service
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