The best thing about Colt McCoy in his rookie debut against the Steelers was his gumption.
From the first play, the game never seemed too big for McCoy, who handled himself very well even though Cleveland lost 28-10. McCoy completed 23 of 33 passes for 281 yards with a touchdown.
"I thought he did a great job," receiver Chansi Stuckey said. "He showed a lot of confidence all week, and that's what he brought to the field."
Some of the yards came after the Steelers had gone up 21-3, but the main point about the rookie quarterback's play was that he never seemed fazed by the competition -- Pittsburgh's defense scares a lot of veterans -- or by the moment. That has not happened with every quarterback the Browns have sent out to face the Steelers.
The question the Browns must ask is what to do with McCoy the rest of the season. With the team off to a 1-5 start, it makes sense to keep him the starter. Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace both have ankle sprains, both are in their 30s and both lack a long-term future in Cleveland.
McCoy might be the future. He also might not. But at this point of the season, he deserves the chance to prove if he can sustain this kind of play.
McCoy didn't answer the Browns' quarterback situation in the loss to Pittsburgh, but he did answer enough questions that he deserves more chances to prove what he can do. As for the team, many long-suffering Browns fans might take solace in McCoy's play, but the bottom line is: merely playing well against a good opponent isn't enough in most NFL cities.
REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- The Browns showed no fear with rookie Colt McCoy starting. They began the game throwing, and they never stopped. They also called legitimate NFL plays, not safe ones to protect McCoy. Credit the coaching staff for having the gumption to support and believe in McCoy in his first start, and credit McCoy for never looking wide-eyed. He threw two interceptions, but both bounced off other players to Pittsburgh defenders. A 28-10 loss usually is no reason for celebration, but McCoy threw for 281 yards and a touchdown without two of his top receivers -- Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi both were knocked out by borderline (at best) hits by LB James Harrison. The Browns are a struggling team that needs to find any bright spot it can. McCoy's poised play was the best part of this defeat.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The running game did not do much. Peyton Hillis led the Browns with 41 yards, and McCoy was second with 22 yards, but no team does much running against Pittsburgh. Expectations have to be tempered because the Steelers are so aggressive. Too, the Browns do not have a speed back to threaten a fast defense. They did, but they traded Jerome Harrison for another power back in Mike Bell. The trade was confusing, but it also showed the faith the team has in Hillis. He is a nice back, but he's not going to beat the Steelers.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- It's becoming a nightmare for Cleveland: Ben Roethlisberger stands strong in the pocket and shrugs off tacklers to beat the Browns. Roethlisberger did it again, throwing for three touchdowns and 257 yards in his return from a four-game suspension. Roethlisberger didn't carve up the Browns defense, but he did come up with key play after key play. None was bigger than a deep strike to Mike Wallace from his end zone for 50 yards with Browns blitzers buzzing at his back and face. Roethlisberger shrugged it off, and Pittsburgh won.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Pittsburgh ran for 121 yards, but it needed 35 carries to get the yards. The Steelers' running game was hardly prolific, but it was effective enough to open things up for Roethlisberger in the passing game. The major blemish for the Browns was the Steelers scored a rushing touchdown, the first one allowed by Cleveland all season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Phil Dawson became the Browns' all-time leader in field goals. That was good. So was Reggie Hodges' punting, which kept the Steelers in poor field position almost the entire game. What was not good was a botched punt return when Chansi Stuckey could not handle a kick late in the game. That led to a Pittsburgh touchdown. The Browns' special teams were hamstrung from the minute Cribbs was knocked out of the game, and it showed.
COACHING: B-plus -- There was not a lot to second-guess in this game. The Browns prepared with McCoy as if they were going to win, and they played as if they believed they could win. The approach was aggressive, not timid, and the Browns played hard. The result was a loss, which is the bottom line, but the way the team played and the way McCoy played and the way the Browns competed were all pluses.