NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Nostradamus, Jeane Dixon and Miss Cleo have nothing on Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis.
With the Browns and Tennessee Titans deadlocked at 28 in a shootout at Adelphia Stadium, Davis made a bold halftime prediction.
"I told Phil Dawson he was going to kick a 44-yard field goal to win the game at the end of the game," said Davis, who chose to take the wind in the fourth quarter to set up a potential game-winning field goal.
Dawson fulfilled his coach's prophecy, booting a 44-yard field goal with 55 seconds remaining to lift the Browns to a thrilling 41-38 comeback victory over the Titans.
"It's kind of scary," said Dawson. "He needs to go into the stock market. He actually said it was going to come down to a 44-yard kick and we were going to have the wind at our back."
More than just prophetic, Davis' statement demonstrated the faith he had in his kicker. Those types of demonstrations help teams maintain their confidence - even teams with 15 players on injured reserve, a starting left tackle sidelined by the flu,and a starting quarterback feeling the brunt of criticism from the fans and media for a four-game losing streak. The win stopped that slide and improved the Browns' record to 7-8.
"I'm proud of our team," said Davis. "I'm proud of the character they displayed. When you are losing, sometimes it is hard to stay upbeat and be positive and have that same purpose to practice hard. These guys have great resiliency."
Tim Couch demonstrated that resilience, rebounding from a three-interception nightmare in a loss at Green Bay by posting his most productive day as the Browns' starting quarterback. Couch completed 20-of-27 passes for a career-high 336 yards and three touchdowns.
"I've always said that I'm a Tim Couch fan," said Davis. "Sometimes the fans don't have the perspective that the coaches do. There is a learning process and struggles you go through as a young quarterback, especially with a new offense on an expansion franchise ... It's not easy, but I've said many times, this is a kid who can lead us to a place that this franchise has never been before. He's remarkable in his ability to stay in the moment. This down, this play is the only thing that matters. Whatever happened on the last down, the last possession, in the last half is amnesia. His being able to focus shows his toughness."
Couch tossed first-quarter touchdown passes of 33 yards to JaJuan Dawson and 20 yards to O.J. Santiago, helping the Browns jump out to a fast start. His final touchdown pass of the day - a 4-yard bullet to Kevin Johnson - pulled the Browns into a 38-38 tie with just 5:37 remaining in the game. Less than four minutes earlier, the Browns trailed the Titans by two touchdowns.
"It was a great feeling to lead a comeback like that," said Couch. "This was huge for us, beating a good team in their stadium, and to win in a shootout when Eddie George goes over 100 yards."
With George rushing for 130 yards on 26 carries and Steve McNair throwing for 274 yards, the Titans had just as much firepower as the Browns. McNair tossed a 40-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Dyson in the first quarter and a 59-yard touchdown to Derrick Mason in the second as the Titans and Browns traded punches in the opening half. George took over after the break, reaching the endzone on a 7-yard run in the third quarter and a 20-yard run early in the fourth to give the Titans their 14-point advantage.
After failing to slow down the Titans' offense for more than three quarters, the Browns' defense finally came up with back-to-back stops to make the comeback possible.
The Browns trimmed the Titans' lead to 38-31 on Jamel White's second touchdown run of the day - a two-yard burst, capping a 9-play, 54-yard drive. Watching the offense click on all cylinders inspired the Browns' defense to rise to the occasion.
"We said on the sidelines, `look, we have one choice," said linebacker Jamir Miller. "We have got to stop them because their defense can't stop our offense. So if we put our offense back on the field, they are going to score.' We went out and stopped them and they punted the ball away."
On the Browns' first play after holding the Titans three-and-out, Couch hit Quincy Morgan on a quick slant that the receiver turned into a 78-yard sprint to the Titans' 2-yard line. Three plays later, Couch split a pair of Titans' defenders on the game-tying, 4-yard touchdown pass to Johnson.
"I'm telling you, he threw that ball 100-miles per hour," said Johnson. "That was a heck of a throw. Probably the best throw I've ever seen him make. Technically, he probably shouldn't have thrown that ball, but he had the confidence and he threw it where only I could catch it."
The inspired Browns' defense, led by Tyrone Rogers' 10-yard sack of McNair, forced another three-and-out to set up the comeback win.
"Those two stops in the fourth quarter were a gut check," said cornerback Corey Fuller. "We knew we hadn't done that all game long. We knew we had to stop them because our offense was hot."
The offense may have been hot, but it needed some help from the Titans' defense to get into position for Dawson's game-winning field goal. Titans' linebacker Keith Bullock grabbed the facemask of Couch as he threw a third-down incompletion at the Titans' 41-yard line. The personal foul gave the Browns a first down at the 25.
"We knew that once we were at the 25-yard line, we were going to make the field goal," said Davis. "Clearly, the objective at that time was to take no negative plays, not take a sack ... or a hold and get backed up 10 yards. If we were going to take three runs and get zero (yards), we were going to do that and kick the field goal and win the game."
That's just what the Browns did. After three runs by Jamel White for a net of zero yards, Dawson was called out to kick the gamewinner.
"I was just doing my part," said Dawson, who has 15 consecutive field goals since a missing a 48-a yarder Oct. 7 . "The guys played their hearts out today. It would have been a shame for me to go out there and fail them because they played great all day."