Limping all the way through a 91-yard march in the closing minutes, Holcomb lifted the Browns to a 13-12 victory over the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at 3COM Park when he found Andre Davis for an 11-yard touchdown pass with just 29 seconds on the clock.
"That's Cleveland Browns football," said Browns coach Butch Davis. "Just wait until the last minute and 35 seconds of the game, then pull rabbits out of your hat."
It's a script Browns fans should know by heart. Six of the Browns nine victories last season came on fourth-quarter comebacks. Last year, however, it was Tim Couch playing the role of comeback kid.
"What can you say about the heroic, gutsy performance by Kelly Holcomb?" said Davis. "He just kept getting off the mat and answering the bell. That's kind of the mark of a champion. That's the way the quarterback position has been played here for the last four years. Tim Couch did it every single Sunday, and (this time) Kelly Holcomb did it. I've got a lot of respect for those guys."
Davis nearly was forced to turn to Couch in the second half as Holcomb struggled with injured ankles and ineffectiveness for three and a half quarters.
Despite pain that he called "a 15" on a scale of 1-to-10, Holcomb refused to come out of the game.
"That's football. You get injured, you tape it up, and you say, ‘let's go," said Holcomb.
Holcomb injured his right ankle when he was hit by 49ers defensive end Chidi Ahanotu on a quarterback sneak from the Browns' 1-yard line with just over six minutes remaining in the first quarter. He hurt the other ankle sometime in the third quarter.
The team won't know how bad Holcomb's ankle injuries are until they are x-rayed today at the Cleveland Clinic.
"You have to give him credit. He is a trooper," said Browns left tackle Barry Stokes. "He showed a lot of heart by staying in there, and you can't help but play with heart when a guy does that."
Through three quarters, Holcomb completed just 8-of-17 passes for a mere 99 yards, and the offense had 113 yards total offense as a whole. Holcomb finally came alive with the game on the line, possibly saving his starting job by completing 17-of-21 passes for 123 yards in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 12-0 with 10:42 remaining in the game, the Browns scored just their second offensive touchdown of the season when Holcomb tossed a 2-yard swing pass to Davis, who reached the end zone with a lunge for the right pylon.
As they did all day long, the Browns defense answered the call.
"The defense showed a lot of pride, and their pride was wounded last week by some things that happened," said Davis.
The Browns responded from that disaster by keeping their next opponent out of the end zone all afternoon, forcing the 49ers to settle for field goals of 38, 44, 46 and 36 yards by Owen Pochman. The defense set the tone for the day by stuffing two-straight dives on third and fourth down by 49ers fullback Fred Beasley, spoiling San Francisco's opening possession with a goal-line stand.
"We were mad," said Browns defensive tackle Gerard Warren. "Sometimes you get your face knocked in the dirt and you have to pick yourself back up. We did that."
After Holcomb's fourth-quarter interception, the Browns defense forced the 49ers to punt after a possession that lasted just over one minute. That set the the stage for the Holcomb's nearly six minute, 17-play, game-winning drive.
"We felt we owed it to the defense," said Browns wide receiver Quincy Morgan. "They play like that, and give up just 12 points on all field goals, its on us to go out and score at least (13) points."
Veteran wide receiver Kevin Johnson (11 catches, 109 yards) pulled down five difficult catches on the game-winning drive, including a key 19-yarder that saw Holcomb fumble, then recover a low snap from center Jeff Faine. As Holcomb picked up the ball, he spotted Johnson near the sideline at the 49ers' 11, and side-armed an off-balance throw.
Three plays later, Holcomb found Davis in between the 49ers two-deep zone in the back of the end zone.
"I just threw it up high to him," said Holcomb. "That's what we are taught to do. Throw it up there and let the receivers make the play."
San Francisco (1-2) moved the ball behind quarterback Jeff Garcia (21-of-35, 198 yards), but consistently stalled deep inside Browns territory.
"It's just frustrating," said Garcia. "It's one of those games where we had
opportunities, but we were not very good inside the red zone. We allowed them
to hang in the game. We had plenty of chances to put it away and just didn't."