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Browns rally for third straight win
Cleveland, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - The wind was taken out of the sails of FirstEnergy Stadium when the homegrown Brian Hoyer exited early on.
Travis Benjamin made sure to put all the energy back in it and the much- maligned Brandon Weeden helped rally his team back.
Benjamin returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown among his team record 179 punt-return yards in Cleveland's 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills, giving the Browns their third straight triumph and best start in 12 years.
So much for needing Trent Richardson.
The former third-string quarterback and native of suburban Cleveland, Hoyer, who filled in for an injured Weeden and engineered back-to-back victories, exited early in the first quarter with a right knee injury.
Hoyer was hurt while sliding at the end of a scramble. He broke free along the right sideline and picked up a first down, but was hit from behind by Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso and his legs bent awkwardly underneath him.
Hoyer is scheduled to undergo an MRI Friday.
"I don't want to be premature," Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski said. "Let's find out what the status is and see what the MRI says. Anytime you lose a guy who's done what he's done, it's disappointing. But let's see what the MRI says."
Weeden missed the previous two tilts with a sprained thumb. Last year's first- round pick entered initially to a chorus of boos and finished 13-of-24 for 197 yards and a touchdown.
Josh Gordon hauled in four receptions for 86 yards and a score, while Willis McGahee ran for 72 yards and a touchdown on 26 rushes for Cleveland (3-2), which last began 3-2 in 2001 when the Browns fizzled out and finished 7-9.
T.J. Ward returned an interception 44 yards for a score with 1:44 left to seal the outcome.
The injury bug bit Buffalo (2-3) as well.
Rookie first-round pick EJ Manuel also left with a knee injury.
With the game tied 17-17 midway through the third quarter and the Bills facing a 3rd-and-8 at the Cleveland 27-yard line, Manuel eluded pressure and escaped along the left sideline for a 14-yard gain.
He was hit in the right knee by Browns safety Tashaun Gipson as he was going out of bounds. Manuel immediately clutched at his knee, but walked off the field under his own power.
Fred Jackson plunged in from a yard out for his second rushing score of the night four plays following Manuel's departure to give Buffalo a 24-17 cushion, but the Bills were outscored 20-0 the rest of the way.
"I was hoping we could get him back, but they said it was a sprain and they shut him down," Bills head coach Doug Marrone said of Manuel.
Jeff Tuel came on for Manuel and was just 8-of-20 for 80 yards, while Manuel was 11-of-20 for 129 yards. C.J. Spiller, who was questionable coming into the game due to an ankle sprain, had a 54-yard TD run among his 66 rushing yards for the Bills, who defeated the defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens last Sunday.
The Browns needed just two plays to tie the game on their next possession.
Weeden hit Greg Little for a 47-yard gain before finding a streaking Gordon along the left sideline as he made a juggling catch for a 37-yard score.
A bit later in the frame, a 34-yard punt by Shawn Powell was returned by Benjamin for six yards to give the Browns excellent field position at the Buffalo 32-yard line. This led to a Billy Cundiff 24-yard field goal to give the Browns a 27-24 edge early in the fourth.
Following a few punts, the Browns regained possession with 7:00 left. Weeden found Gordon for an 18-yard gain to move the chains on 3rd-and-18 before hitting Little for a 16-yard completion a play later. The Browns proceeded to take 4:41 off the clock on the march, which was capped when Cundiff nailed a 44-yard field goal.
Ward picked off Tuel four plays later.
Earlier, Jackson's 1-yard TD run capped Buffalo's first trek of the contest and a 52-yard Dan Carpenter field goal later in the opening frame gave the visitors a 10-0 lead after a quarter of play.
The Browns, though, outscored the Bills 17-0 in the second.
A Benjamin 57-yard punt return late in the first led to a 30-yard Cundiff field goal early in the second and McGahee's 1-yard TD plunge concluded an elongated 14-play, 74-yard sequence.
The Bills then went three-and-out on their next touch and Benjamin's electrifying 79-yard return gave the hosts a 17-10 advantage heading into the locker room.
The Browns, who wore all-Brown uniforms for the first time in franchise history, retired Jim Brown's No. 32 at halftime ... Bills leading receiver Stevie Johnson injured his back in the opening half and did not return ... Browns defensive end Desmond Bryant was taken to the hospital in the third quarter after experiencing shortness of breath.
10/04 02:25:27 ET