Eric Zeier secured a job, won a wacky game and may have rescued the Cleveland Browns' season, all in his first start.
No wonder his boss already is expecting great things.
The rookie passed for 310 yards Sunday and led the Browns on a winning overtime drive after they blew a 10-point lead in regulation. Matt Stover's 28-yard field goal 6:30 into overtime was good for a 29-26 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Zeier made it all possible, and now the Browns (4-4) sense the possibilities with the plucky rookie at quarterback.
"I'm exhausted right now," a smiling Zeier said. "It was a great football game. It's the kind you want to be part of and remember for a long time."
Asked whether Zeier is the most exciting Brown rookie he has seen, owner Art Modell said, "If he isn't today, he will be tomorrow. I think Eric Zeier is going to captivate the town."
His first task was saving the Browns' season.
Coming off a 23-15 loss to Jacksonville that Modell called embarrassing, distressing and disturbing, the Browns benched Vinny Testaverde and looked to Zeier for a lift. He gave it to them in the fourth quarter.
Zeier put the Browns in position to win by leading them on a 90-yard drive that culminated in his 17-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison with 5:35 left. Zeier put the ball high enough that Rison could outjump two defenders in the end zone.
"I thought he made some big plays in the game," said Coach Bill Belichick, who benched Testaverde because he wasn't making enough of them. "The touchdown pass was a heck of a throw."
Cleveland started celebrating when Corey Sawyer's fumble on a punt set up Earnest Byner's three-yard touchdown run with 2:51 left. The 10-point lead looked safe when Jeff Blake was knocked out of the game because of a concussion moments later.
But David Klingler, who sat out the first seven games because of a broken jaw, came on and forged the tie. Passing against a defense missing safety Eric Turner, Klingler directed the Bengals to Doug Pelfrey's 41-yard field goal with 1:04 left.
Cincinnati (3-5) then recovered the on-side kick, which took a high bounce to Leonard Wheeler at the Bengals' 46-yard line. Two pass-interference penalties on Antonio Langham set up Klingler's one-yard lob to Carl Pickens, tying it with 15 seconds left. The Bengals elected to kick the extra point and send the game to overtime rather than go for two.
Bengal Coach Dave Shula went back to Blake in overtime, and the decision swung the game. Blake's tipped pass was intercepted by Dana Hall at the Bengals' 45.
"He felt he was fine," Shula said. "There wasn't any hesitation whatsoever. He's our starting quarterback. He's a part of why we were in the position of being in first place going into today. There wasn't any doubt there."
Zeier took it from there, guiding the Browns to the winning kick. Rison was surprised at how composed Zeier was during overtime, with a hostile crowd howling and the Bengals' defense trying to get to him.
"He has shown us great leadership in practice," said Rison, who finished with seven catches for 173 yards, his best day with Cleveland. "He's not intimidated by anyone."
Zeier, a third-round draft pick from Georgia, was 26 for 46 with one interception near the goal line, his only glaring mistake.