SEATTLE - Considering the unwavering support Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis has given his hand-picked starter at quarterback, Tim Couch admitted he was "caught by surprise" at halftime Sunday in Seahawks Stadium when he was told he would replace Kelly Holcomb to open the third quarter.
"I was excited to get back out on the field for sure," said Couch. "I wish it could have been a little bit longer."
Poor protection by a beat-up offensive line led to Couch getting hammered while delivering a short 5-yard pass to tight end Darnell Sanders. It was just his fifth play of the game, his third pass attempt and his only completion, and it all ended with Couch writhing on the field in pain, holding his left knee.
Just one more nightmare in a long season for the embattled former No. 1 pick, and one more disaster in an embarrassing 34-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks that
"I wish I could have been in longer, but these things happen," said Couch. "It's an unfortunate injury."
For now, Couch is assuming the injury is a sprained MCL. He assumed it was more serious when he walked gingerly from the field with help from the Browns training staff.
"When it happened, it was pretty painful," said Couch. "As I started to walk it off a little bit, the pain started going away. It's pretty sore now that it has stiffened up a little bit. I'm sure it's going to be sore for the next couple of days, but hopefully it won't have too much swelling and I can get back out on the field."
If Couch can play, he could have one more opportunity to prove he should be the Browns starting quarterback. It could also be one final opportunity to convince the Browns they should keep him in Cleveland in 2004.
Holcomb has struggled more often than not since winning the starting job out of training camp. His lack of mobility has made success even more difficult to come by playing behind an offensive line that is missing two starters.
On Sunday, Davis hoped Couch could give the Browns offense a much-needed spark.
"We wanted to make a change," said Davis. "At the time it was 17-0 ... If he had come out and given us a spark, we could cut it to 17-7 and surprisingly we might be back into it. We felt like we just wanted to give (Couch) an opportunity."
Davis sounded like a coach who has accepted the fact that it doesn't really matter who is at the helm of the current Browns offense. With center Jeff Faine out for the year with an ankle injury and right guard Paul Zukauskas back in Massachusetts with his sick mother, the Browns are once again struggling to maintain continuity on the offensive line.
"I think both of these guys are struggling right now," said Davis. "Their struggling is a byproduct of how touch it is for our offense to have any kind of rhythm and consistency. I think both of these guys are victimized by the pressure and victimized by all the things that happen when you are struggling."
For Couch, dealing with an injury just when another opportunity to get back on the field arises just adds to an already frustrating season.
"You finally get a chance to get back out on the field, and on its only for a few plays," said Couch. "But I guess there's really nothing you can do. You just try to play hard and just try to deal with it."
Holcomb took the halftime news that Couch would be inserted into the game in stride.
"Whatever coach says, I just go with it," said Holcomb, who returned to the game when Couch was injured. "Obviously, he was just trying to get something started. In the first half, we didn't do much. It turns out that in the second half we didn't do much either."
With the Browns hopes of returning to the playoffs all but ended by the humiliating loss to the Seahawks, Holcomb said the final four games could amount to auditioning for a job going into next season.
"Coaches are looking to see who is going to play, who is going to fight, because that is who you want on your football team," said Holcomb. "You have to go out there with that mentality. You have to keep playing and keep doing the best you can do. This is not a very patient league. You have to keep fighting through it."
Holcomb didn't help his chances of keeping his starting job by forcing a throw into coverage while trying to avoid a sack and suffering an interception for the second consecutive week.
On a rare trip deep inside Seattle territory, Holcomb was intercepted by Seahawks cornerback Ken Lucas, who had inside position on Andre Davis on what amounted to a jump ball at the Seattle 2-yard line.
"I was actually trying to throw that ball away," said Holcomb, who was under heavy pressure when he released the ball. "I was trying to throw over Andre Davis' head. Right when he grabbed me, it altered the ball, and I said ‘here we go again."