An Unpleasant Display

<I>David's game report appears courtesy of the Record-Courier</I><BR> An unpleasant night at Cleveland Browns Stadium had an impact on players on the locker room, who were upset with both their play and the fans behavior. David Carducci reports it straight and unedited. <I><B>WARNING: This article contains expletives. Do not read if you find such language offensive.</B></I>

CLEVELAND - Tim Couch feels betrayed.

Most of the 73,688 fans at Cleveland Browns Stadium turned on their quarterback Sunday night, greeting him with a chorus of boos every time he walked onto the field in the second half of the Browns' 26-21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

The already unpleasant scene turned downright ugly midway through the fourth quarter when the fans cheered as Couch stumbled and dropped to his knees in pain after suffering a concussion.

Couch was clearly crushed by the fans' display. In an emotional scene, he struggled to control his anger and fight back tears while sitting in front of his locker following the game.

"I got hit in the back of the head and the next thing I remember the fans are cheering while I'm laying on the field hurting, and I think it's fucking bullshit," said Couch. "They've got their opinions. They don't like me, then that's all I'm going to say about it."

But it wasn't all Couch would say. The man who has been the symbol of the new Browns' franchise since his No. 1 overall selection in the 1999 NFL Draft sounded like a jilted lover who had been tossed aside in favor of a new infatuation.

"I've been here going on four years now, and I've laid it on the line for this team and this city," said Couch, his voice cracking as he tried to hold back tears. "For them to turn on me and boo me in my home stadium is a joke. It is a fucking joke to me. I have worked my ass off here. It is hard to take."

The new object of the fans' desire is backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb, who played well in place of the injured Couch in the season's first two games and replaced Couch again after he was hurt Sunday. Couch suffered the concussion when Ravens' linebacker Ed Hartwell slammed his head into the turf during a scramble to recover a bad snap near the Browns' goal line with 9:52 remaining in the game.

While Holcomb was greeted with cheers when he took over at quarterback, he admitted to being disturbed by the fans' assault of Couch.

"I didn't like that. I didn't think it was right," said Holcomb, who completed 13-of-23 passes for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns to lead a fourth-quarter comeback, but was also intercepted twice. "It was a really awkward situation. It wasn't right, but that's the way fans are sometimes."

Couch made very poor decisions, both ending in interceptions that stirred the fans' wrath. He was also victimized by several drops by his receivers and poor protection from his offensive line. Through it all, he still managed to complete 16-of-26 passes for 216 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown pass to Mark Campbell to help the Browns right the ship in the fourth quarter. The touchdown capped a 7-play, 69-yard drive in which Couch completed all of his three passes for 54 yards - 43 coming on a perfectly thrown bomb to Dennis Northcutt.

"Tim is a good player, and he is the quarterback of this football team," said Holcomb. "It just wasn't the whole teams night tonight."

The fact that the fans singled out Couch to take the blame for the Browns' dismal performance in the first three quarters did not sit well with his teammates.

"Tim has battled through so much these first three years," said wide receiver Kevin Johnson, one of Couch's closest friend on the team. "He's never said a word and he always showed that he loved the fans. For the fans to turn on him when they don't know the game, they don't know the calls, that's just downright wrong.

"Tim cares. He is trying to be everything he can be. He is always in there fighting and trying to do everything he can to help this team win. I'm going to tell him to keep fighting. Quarterbacks always get too much of the blame when a team is losing. He needs to keep up his head and know that there will be better times."

Several players said they were excited to play in Cleveland after hearing stories of the rabid fans in the Dawg Pound. Those same players said Sunday's display tarnished some of that legend.

"Whenever we are interviewed, we talk about how great these fans are," said wide receiver Quincy Morgan, who was also loudly booed after two dropped passes and a key fumble that ended the Browns' first possession of the second half. "We still have great fans. It wasn't the whole crowd who booed Tim. I know Tim is a strong guy and he won't let this phase him."

Morgan said he was shocked when he heard the fans' reaction to Couch's injury.

"I was in the endzone in front of the Dawg Pound, and I started waving my hands down to let them know, `no, that's not right," said Morgan. "It was not right. The man comes to practice every day. He works hard, then he comes out on Sunday and he fights ... I don't mind that they boo him. That happens. It's part of the game and they had a right to be mad at how we played. But to boo when he is hurt, that bothers me."

"It doesn't matter what the fans say. We all know it is Tim's job. We know we will win with Tim. The coaches know we will win with Tim. We will rally around Tim."

While Couch have the confidence of his teammates and coaching staff, he admitted he may have to live with an adversarial relationship with the fans.

"It's not the way I want it to be, but I guess that's the way it is going to have to be," said Couch.

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