Just when it looked like the secondary might be intact for the first time since the second game of the season the Browns got the worst news imaginable; cornerback Gary Baxter tore both patellar tendons on the same play in the second quarter against the Broncos. He is gone for the season and might not play until the second half of 2007, if then.
The injury puts the Browns in scramble mode as they prepare to face the Jets in Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday. The Browns, 1-5 overall, are 0-3 at home.
The Browns gave tryouts to numerous cornerbacks while Baxter recovered from a partially torn pectoral muscle earlier in the season. Now with Baxter on injured reserve they decided to sign Mike Hawkins, a 6-1, 187-pound defensive back who played for the Packers past season. Hawkins was in for a workout on two separate occasions.
Coach Romeo Crennel is hopeful Leigh Bodden will be back from a sprained ankle in time to play against the Jets, but Bodden is still bothered by an ankle that was sprained in Oakland Oct. 1. In the meantime Daven Holly will start at one corner and Jereme Perry will be the nickel back.
"I fully expect to (start)," Holly said. "I played well in the three games I was in. Even if Gary came back, I was still going to play a lot.
"We're hoping for a speedy recovery and I know he's going to get back as fast as he can. He works with injuries well."
The injury has long-range ramifications. Cornerback would not be a high priority in the draft next season if Baxter and Bodden were healthy. That could change now. The Browns already have draft priorities on the line of scrimmage.
"If you have to guesstimate, it's going to be at least a year," Crennel said of Baxter's recovery time. "He's not going to be able to move around too much. The surgery went well. I know Gary will work very hard on his rehab. He was over here all the time working on his shoulder. I anticipate that he will do the same thing this time to give himself the best chance to get back on the field."
The patellar tendon anchors the kneecap to the shinbone. It is a rare injury and according to medical reports should always be repaired soon after the injury to allow the best chance of recovery; Baxter's were repaired 48 hours after the injury.
Baxter will be in a wheelchair with his legs immobilized during the first couple months after he is discharged. Center LeCharles Bentley suffered the same injury. He tore his left patellar tendon on July 27 and was unable to put any weight on his left leg for a month.
Baxter has had nothing but problems since signing a six-year $30 million contract as a free agent in 2005. He missed one game with a concussion and 10 with a torn pectoral muscle last season. His left pectoral was partially torn in August, forcing him to miss all of preseason. He aggravated the injury in the second regular season game and missed the next three games. The Denver game was his first game back.
GAME PLAN: New offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson might be tempted to call pass plays to prove his aggressiveness, but he would help the Browns more by sticking with the run even if it does not succeed in the beginning.
Reuben Droughns is one of those runners that get stronger as the game goes on because he rips through tackles. He ran the ball only 12 times against New Orleans and 12 times against Denver. The score did not dictate they had to abandon the run, but they did both times, particularly in the 19-14 loss to the Saints.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Browns CB Daven Holly vs. Jets WR Laveranues Coles: Coles already has 42 catches in seven games. He averages 13.5 yards a catch. Holly has played well subbing for injured Gary Baxter, but Holly gives his receivers a big cushion so they won't get behind him. If Chad Pennington is content to take what Holly gives him Coles could end up with 10 catches.
The big cushion is one reason the Browns are not a good third-down defense. Opponents have converted on third down 39.8 percent of the time. Opponents are converting an average of 12 passing first downs a game.
Browns MLB Andra Davis vs. Jets RB Leon Washington: Davis is having another banner year with 59 tackles, nearly 10 a game, but only one has been behind the line of scrimmage. Davis will need more help from nose tackle Ted Washington so he can swoop in and stuff the run better than he has.
INJURY UPDATE: CB Leigh Bodden (ankle), RT Ryan Tucker (illness), S Brian Russell (ankle) and WR Dennis Northcutt (ribs) are questionable. All missed a portion of practice Wednesday. TE Kellen Winslow Jr. (knee), S Brodney Pool (hamstring) and S Justin Hamilton (ankle) are questionable but were not restricted in practice.
SERIES HISTORY: 18th meeting. The Browns lead the series 10-7. The Browns and Jets have met twice since returning to the NFL in 1999. The visiting team won each time.
The Browns' 24-21 victory in the Meadowlands on Oct. 27, 2002 was one of the most stirring in the expansion era. It was played on the Sunday after team owner Al Lerner passed way. The Browns trailed 21-6 at halftime and scored 18 unanswered points in the second half.
Tim Couch was the hero for the Browns in that comeback victory. He completed 33 of 49 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns. It was a pivotal game in the only playoff season the Browns have had since their return.
As uplifting as the 2002 game was, the 2004 game was just the opposite. The Browns lost 10-7. Quarterback Jeff Garcia was knocked out of the game with a knee injury. Coach Butch Davis would coach only one more game, against Cincinnati the following week, and then resign.
Three games against the Jets went into overtime. The Browns won all three. They won 37-34 on Dec. 10, 1978, 25-22 on Sept. 2, 1979 and 23-20 in double overtime on Jan. 1 1987.
The 1987 playoff game at old Cleveland Stadium was memorable for a couple reasons. One of the biggest plays in the game was Mark Gastineau being penalized for roughing the passer when he hit Bernie Kosar late. The penalty kept a drive alive. Mark Moseley, one of the last straight-on kickers, kicked the game-winning field goal.
The Browns and Jets played the first ever Monday Night Football game on Sept. 21, 1970. The Browns won 31-21.
--RT Ryan Tucker missed practice Wednesday because of an illness that has lingered since last Thursday. He did play against Denver. The Browns are expected to issue a report on his condition today.
--CB Gary Baxter was placed on injured reserve after tearing the patellar tendons in both his knees against the Broncos last week. Surgery was performed Tuesday. Mike Hawkins, a 6-1, 187-pound defensive back, was signed to take his roster spot. Hawkins played in 11 games with one start for the Packers last year.
--CB Leigh Bodden is expected to play against the Jets Sunday. A sprained ankle kept him out of the game against Denver. He missed two games sandwiched around the bye week. He was limited in practice Wednesday.
--WR Joe Jurevicius is likely to make his second start. Jurevicius dropped back-to-back passes last week, the first time he has done that in his career.
--QB Charlie Frye is having no aftershocks from a concussion that sidelined him for one play in the Denver game. Earlier this week he confessed he grabbed his helmet and ran onto the field before doctors gave him clearance to play.