CLEVELAND - It took Kelly Holcomb a mere 36 seconds to turn the Cleveland Browns return to Monday Night Football's national stage into a horrible nightmare and remind Cleveland fans just how dismal the 2004 season has become.
Tim Couch authored some second-half heroics to give the Browns a chance, but Holcomb's two interceptions had already set the stage for a disappointing 26-20 loss to the Rams.
Trailing 9-7 with 1:04 remaining in the half, Holcomb tried to fire a quick slant to Quincy Morgan. Williams read the play from the start, jumping the route for an interception the veteran safety turned into an easy 46-yard touchdown.
Holcomb's return to the field was met by a chorus of boos from the sell-out crowd at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The fan's frustration only intensified two plays later when Holcomb's throw to Dennis Northcutt into triple coverage was again intercepted by Williams.
It took the Rams only two plays and 17 seconds to turn Williams' second pick into a 16-yard touchdown pass from Marc Bulger to Isaac Bruce. All of a sudden the Rams were ahead 23-7 and the man Browns coach Butch Davis anointed the starting quarterback on a "gut feeling" three months ago was headed to the bench.
"You can't give up 14 quick points like that," said Holcomb, who completed 10-of-17 passes for 80 yards. "It is unacceptable and it cost us the game."
For the second consecutive week, Couch was called on to jump-start the Browns offense, and unlike last week's humiliating loss in Seattle when he was knocked out by an injury after just five plays, the former No. 1 overall pick managed to create a spark.
"I was looking for somebody to go in and play effectively, and Tim did that," Davis admitted.
Couch completed 6-of-9 passes for 98 yards in the second half and engineered two touchdown drives to give the Browns a chance. Unfortunatley, he also fumbled twice on two sacks - the last sealing the Rams win.
The night still may have been enough for Couch to win back his old starting job.
"I'm not going to make (the decision) in a press conference," Davis said after the game. "We'll talk about it (Tuesday). I'm sure we'll have a decision to make first thing in the morning."
The Browns hopes for a last-minute comeback fell short when Couch lost a fumble on a fourth-down sack by defensive tackle Brian Young with just under two minutes remaining at the St. Louis 40-yard line.
Couch opened the second half by lofting a 28-yard touchdown pass to Morgan on a streak down the right sideline. After a failed two-point conversion, the Browns trailed 23-13.
The Browns pulled to within six points with 10:17 remaining in the game when Couch marched the Browns 80 yards for another score, completing a key 18-yard crossing pass to Northcutt to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by another relic dusted off by the Browns - Jamel White.
White, who had been mired on the bench behind William Green and James Jackson for most of the year, ran for 101 yards on 16 carries after replacing Jackson in the first quarter. Jackson left with a right ankle injury and did not return.
Holcomb's night opened with some promise as he engineered a seven-play, 72-yard drive that ended with the Browns first offensive touchdown since a long-forgotten 44-6 win over Arizona Nov. 16. The score - a 2-yard pass to H-back Keith Heinrich put the Browns ahead 7-3 with 4:13 remaining in the first quarter.
The night started to turn sour for Holcomb early in the second quarter when he fumbled on a sack by Rams defensive end Leonard Little, who also fell on the loose ball to spoil a drive that had reached the St. Louis 33-yard line.
Holcomb's crash and burn spoiled an inspired effort by a Browns defense that forced the Rams to settle for Jeff Wilkins field goals of 28, 26 and 29 yards on three first-half drives inside the Cleveland 20. Wilkins added another short field goal in the fourth quarter to close the St. Louis scoring.
"In some respects, this is about as gutsy of a performance by a football team in the face of a ton of adversity with guys getting hurt and going down," said Davis. "Bad things happened before the end of the first half. We were a team that refused to quit and give up. We put ourselves in a position to win the game at the end. As it has been in the last three or four weeks, you can't make five turnovers and win ballgames. It's way too difficult."