Brian Hoyer's story, seemingly pulled from a Disney movie script, took a cruel turn.
The Cleveland quarterback's season is over.
A lifelong Browns fan living out his boyhood dream by starting for his hometown team, Hoyer tore a knee ligament while running for a first down Thursday night against Buffalo and will miss the remainder of this season.
It's a devastating blow for Hoyer, who had waited five years — three as Tom Brady's backup in New England — to become an NFL starter and led the Browns to wins over Minnesota and Cincinnati while replacing an injured Brandon Weeden.
"This is disappointing," Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said Friday on a conference call. "It's an unfortunate thing."
Chudzinski said an MRI taken Friday showed Hoyer tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He will undergo surgery, ending his feel-good story after just three starts and with the Browns (3-2) rolling. Chudzinski said there is no other damage in Hoyer's knee, which got caught in the turf at FirstEnergy as he slid and was hit by Bills rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso.
The usual recovery time is nine months to one year, but for Hoyer the injury stole a chance to prove to Cleveland's front office he could be their franchise quarterback.
Chudzinski said he spoke with Hoyer after getting the medical results.
"It's hard on him," said Chudzinski. "Obviously he's disappointed, but if you know him and you know how positive he is and the type of person he is. He's already thinking about when he's going to be back. I reassured him that as well. I wanted to let him know how much he meant to us and what he did. But he'll be back. He'll make it back. He's that type of guy.
"He's the kind of guy you don't doubt."
Chudzinski said there are no immediate plans to sign another quarterback and Weeden will return as Cleveland's starter.
Signed by Cleveland as a free agent in May, Hoyer, released by New England, Pittsburgh and Arizona in the past year, began the season as Cleveland's No. 3 quarterback. With Weeden out recovering from a sprained thumb, Hoyer made just his second NFL start in Week 3 and led the Browns to consecutive wins, directing clutch fourth-quarter drives and throwing clinching touchdown passes in both games.
"He did a great job and he was a big reason why we won those games, but not the only reason," Chudzinski said, professing the "next-man up" mantra all NFL coaches maintain because of injuries.
With the Browns trailing 7-0, Hoyer, flushed from the pocket, took off up field. He had just passed the first-down marker and was sliding when he took a blow near the helmet from Alonso in front of Cleveland's sideline. Several Browns coaches and players screamed for a penalty as Hoyer lay face down in the grass.
Chudzinski wouldn't say if he thought Alonso should have been given a personal foul.
"If it was close," he said, "I don't think there was any intention there."
With Hoyer out, Weeden, who returned from injury only to be demoted to a backup role, has his starting job back.
Weeden replaced Hoyer against the Bills, and following a slow start — some Browns fans booed his first few incompletions— he rallied Cleveland to its third straight win. Weeden threw a 37-yard TD pass to wide receiver Josh Gordon in the third quarter and finished 13 of 24 for 197 yards.
"The guys rallied around him," Chudzinski said. "It was a gutsy performance, and it wasn't always pretty. I think he was still a little bit rusty, but he got the job done and he was able to help us win that game. There were some ups and downs, but he was resilient and was able to make some big plays."
Weeden was only cleared to play earlier in the week after he threw in Wednesday's practice. Chudzinski decided to have him as the Browns' No. 2 quarterback and made Jason Campbell inactive against the Bills.
Following the game, Weeden said he never lost faith despite being injured and dropping behind Hoyer on the depth chart.
"I knew I couldn't, because regardless if I was the starter or not, eyes are on you," he said. "So I was upbeat the entire time, never let it bother me. It kind of lit a fire in me. I still needed to prepare, still needed to watch tape at night just in case something unfortunate happens."