CLEVELAND -- For 10 consecutive Sundays during the 2012 regular season, Brian Hoyer sat on his sofa, grabbed the remote and looked for signs that his NFL career might not be over.
Ultimately, he couldn't bear to watch.
Released on the final cut-down day by the New England Patriots, the franchise that had employed him as a backup quarterback for three seasons, Hoyer had tuned in weekly to view pro football's equivalent of the classified ads, trolling for a team that might desire his services. By mid-November, Hoyer was fed up: Instead of torturing himself by staring at the tube all day, he and his wife, Lauren, took their infant son, Garrett, to a park near their Avon Lake, Ohio home.
"You're sitting there just waiting for an opportunity, and it really drives you crazy," Hoyer, now the league's most surprising starting quarterback, recalled earlier this week. "You watch and watch and watch ... and you get frustrated. So finally, one Sunday, I couldn't take it anymore. Instead of watching, we went to the park."
As if conveniently conceived by a Hollywood screenwriter, Hoyer's professional life was about to take a dramatic turn. The following day, Hoyer got a call from the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose starting quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) and backup (Byron Leftwich) had been injured in consecutive weeks. Released by Pittsburgh in early December, Hoyer finished the season in Arizona, making his first career start in the Cardinals' season-ending defeat to the San Francisco 49ers.
Eventually, the road circled back to its origin: On Thursday night, when the Cleveland Browns host the Buffalo Bills on NFL Network, Hoyer will try to lead his hometown team to its third consecutive victory, a streak that began after he replaced the injured Brandon Weeden and energized a moribund offense reeling from the stunning trade that sent halfback Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts.
Though Weeden, who missed the previous two games with a sprained right thumb, returned to practice this week, Hoyer seems to have usurped the 2012 first-round draft pick as the Browns' starter. Coach Rob Chudzinski says he will evaluate the position on a week-to-week basis, but it's clear that Hoyer -- elevated from third string in the wake of Weeden's injury -- will get every chance to seize the position.
As he tries to complete the unlikely climb from unemployed afterthought to legitimate NFL starter, Hoyer has a lot of people in his corner. For starters, he has the support of a frustrated fan base eager to see a local kid who grew up idolizing Bernie Kosar lead the Browns into relevance.
"That's my boy," Fitzgerald said of Hoyer, who became expendable in Arizona in May, after the team traded for Carson Palmer. "He was a great teammate. I miss having him with us.
"He is meticulous and pays attention to all the details. He would stay after practice and throw routes with me and study film. He understands coverages and has the arm strength to make all the throws."
Not long ago, Hoyer thought he'd have a chance to throw to Fitzgerald in 2013. Last March, two months after Bruce Arians took over as the Cardinals' head coach, the team retained Hoyer's rights by using a second-round tender worth $2.02 million on him. Less than one week later, Arizona signed free agent Drew Stanton, whom Hoyer once had backed up at Michigan State, to a three-year, $8.2 million contract.
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"I thought the Arizona situation was going to be a good one for me," Hoyer said. "I thought I'd have a chance to compete. Obviously they signed Drew, and I've known Drew since college, so I was feeling good about it. Then they made the trade (for Palmer), and I realized it wasn't gonna work out the way I planned."
At that point, Hoyer dreaded the prospect of another post-training-camp release that would leave him without options. The Patriots, after all, had given him a second-round tender in March of 2012, only to cut him (and go with just two quarterbacks, Brady and Ryan Mallett) shortly before the start of the season.
"When I got released at the end of camp like that, I was really all alone," Hoyer recalled. "I had no connections throughout the rest of the league. That was the only place I'd been. None of the coaches I'd been with had fanned out to other places. No one really knew about the times when Tom was out the whole week of practice and I was running the whole team."
With that in mind, Hoyer (through his agent) asked the Cardinals to release him in the wake of the Palmer trade -- and general manager Steve Keim granted the player's wish.
"I just wanted to get out of there quicker rather than later," Hoyer said, "and they kind of did right by me. I'd rather go somewhere where maybe I was a little more wanted."
Once that happened, Hoyer said, "I really didn't follow any football, college or pro. They didn't have a team here, so I just didn't get into it. I kind of got caught up in my own games."
Now, Hoyer's performances and those of his home team have intersected -- but he's not getting caught up in the sentiment of the experience. Instead, he's focused on not looking too far ahead, and compelling his teammates to do the same. Earlier this week, Hoyer broke down the Browns after practice and reminded them not to get caught up in their recent success.
"You can tell he was influenced by his time in New England," right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said of Hoyer. "He told us that we can't start feeling too good about ourselves or looking too far past this, that we need to take care of this game, and nothing else is important."
Well, almost nothing: As fate would have it, Lauren Hoyer is due with the couple's second child on Oct. 21, just as her husband's responsibilities at the workplace have markedly increased.
"When you take on the starting role, it's so time-consuming," Brian Hoyer said. "She kind of realizes it's the chance I've been waiting for my whole life, and she's been really cool.
"I don't want to complain about this in any way, because we were lucky enough to get pregnant, when I know some people have a hard time with that. But it's obviously not the best timing. Yet of course it's an incredible opportunity."
And after having endured all those Sundays last autumn as a forlorn couch potato, Hoyer has no intention of taking it lightly.