Brady Quinn will make his first meaningful start since he quarterbacked Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl against LSU 22 months ago when he leads the Browns against the Denver Broncos on Thursday night in a nationally televised game at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Coach Romeo Crennel made the decision to bench Derek Anderson and go with Quinn on Monday after meeting with his assistant coaches. He insists the decision was his and that it was not made by general manager Phil Savage or team owner Randy Lerner.
"It was just time," Crennel said Tuesday. "We're not throwing in the towel. We're going to beat Denver. We're going to move forward. I think Quinn will represent himself and the Browns very well.
"This is a lifetime opportunity for him to be quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. Now he has it. We'll see what he can do with it."
Since the Browns took him in the first round of the 2007 draft with a pick acquired in a trade with the Cowboys, Quinn played in three preseason games in 2007 and four more this summer. He played one series in the regular season last year, completing three of eight passes against the 49ers in the final game of the season.
"It's been a little while," Quinn said in the locker room Tuesday. "I have to dust off my cleats and shoulder pads. But it will be fun to get back out there. Obviously I'm excited now, and I will be when game time comes around. I think the biggest thing for me is remaining calm and not getting too excited."
Crennel said he is looking for Quinn to provide a spark and change the dynamic of a struggling offense. The Broncos have lost three straight. As poorly as the Broncos have played over the last month, their 4-4 record is better than the Browns' 3-5 mark.
The Browns won three of five after an 0-3 start, but Anderson still ranks near the bottom in most categories for quarterbacks. His passer rating of 68.9 ranks 31st in the NFL, and he has completed fewer than half of his passes -- 121 of 243 for 49.8 percent. Yet he has thrown nine touchdown passes compared to seven interceptions. Anderson put up 27 points and two touchdown passes in the 37-27 loss to the Ravens on Sunday. He would have had another touchdown, but Braylon Edwards let a deep pass slip through his hands. It was one of 13 drops by Edwards this season.
Anderson said he expected more of himself, particularly in the first three games, but he said he was still shocked when Crennel called him into his office Monday to inform him he was no longer the starter.
Anderson said he wants to stay with the Browns beyond 2008 because of the bond he has formed with his teammates. Whether he gets the chance to play with them again this season depends on how Quinn performs Thursday and in future games.
"Knock on wood, I hope the guy doesn't fall on his face, but if he falls on his face you have to do something, because I can't play quarterback," Crennel said.
SERIES HISTORY: 22nd meeting. The Broncos lead the regular-season series 16-5. They also beat the Browns three times in the playoffs, all in AFC championship games. More than 20 years later, mention of "The Drive" or "The Fumble" will rekindle bad memories for Browns fans. The Browns have beaten the Broncos only twice in the last 17 regular-season meetings.
--The first time John Elway broke the Browns' hearts was with "The Drive" on Jan. 11, 1987, in Cleveland. The Browns led 20-13 when the Broncos took possession on the Browns 2 with 5:32 to play. Elway directed a 15-play drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Mark Jackson with 37 seconds to play. He was 6-for-9 for 78 yards passing on The Drive, including a 20-yard pass to Jackson on third-and-18 from the Browns 48. Rich Karlis kicked a 33-yard field goal 5:38 into overtime to send the Broncos to the Super Bowl. Bernie Kosar threw two touchdown passes for the Browns.
--A year later, the Browns and Broncos met in a rematch in Denver. That game became known as "The Fumble" when Earnest Byner was stripped of the ball at the Denver 3 by Jeremiah Castille. Byner was headed for the tying touchdown with the Broncos leading 38-31. The final score was 38-33 because the Broncos took an intentional safety near the end of the game. Byner's mistake spoiled a tremendous comeback by the Browns. They trailed 21-3 at halftime and scored three touchdowns.
--Kosar and Elway are friends and rivals. Elway owns the Denver-based Colorado Crush in the Arena Football League, and Kosar is the president and part-owner of the Cleveland Gladiators. When the Crush played in Cleveland last spring, Elway's picture was shown on the scoreboard Jumbotron, and fans booed loudly.
--In that 38-33 AFC championship loss in Denver, Kosar and Elway each threw three touchdown passes.
--Bud Carson was the Browns' head coach when the Browns and Broncos met for the third time in an AFC championship game on Jan. 14, 1990, in Denver. It wasn't even close. The Broncos romped 37-21. Elway passed for 385 yards and three touchdowns. The Browns pulled within 24-21 on a 2-yard touchdown run by Tim Manoa in the third quarter, but the Broncos scored on three of four possessions in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
--The 464 yards the Browns gained in the playoff game in Denver in 1988 was the second-highest total in team history. The record is 553 yards in a double-overtime game against the Jets.
--One indication the Browns did poorly against the Broncos in the playoffs is the team's top two all-time postseason marks for kickoff returns are both against Denver. Eric Metcalf returned six kicks against the Broncos in the 1990 game, and Gerald McNeil returned five against them in the 1988 game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's young, so you don't know what to expect, but he has worked hard and he'll be ready." -- C Hank Fraley, on QB Brady Quinn.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 -- Consecutive losses by the Browns to the Broncos in the regular season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Along with a change of quarterbacks, the Browns are contemplating making a change on the offensive line for Thursday's game against Denver. The difference is Seth McKinney is moving into Eric Steinbach's slot at left guard because Steinbach has a muscle pull in his ribcage, not because Steinbach isn't playing well.
"Pulled muscles sometimes can be difficult," coach Romeo Crennel said Tuesday. "(Steinbach) is not going to practice (Tuesday). He is questionable for the game, and we will see how it responds."
The injury to Steinbach affects the pass protection for QB Brady Quinn and will make it more difficult for the Browns to run the ball. Ryan Tucker, who started the last eight games at right guard last season, is already on injured reserve with a knee injury. Lennie Friedman, a versatile backup who can play all three interior positions, has been on IR since the start of the season.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--NT Shaun Rogers missed practice Tuesday because of a rib injury.
--DE Corey Williams missed practice because of a shoulder injury. Williams has rested his shoulder at least one day in recent weeks but has played on Sunday.
--RB Lawrence Vickers did not practice because of a high ankle sprain. The injury prevented him from playing against the Ravens.
--WR Donte Stallworth practiced on a limited basis Tuesday. He missed the game against the Ravens with a quadriceps injury.
--TE Darnell Dinkins was limited in practice because of a hamstring injury.
GAME PLAN: The Browns can expect the Broncos to blitz Brady Quinn in his first NFL start. In the past, Romeo Crennel has said defenses like to pressure young quarterbacks until they prove they can handle it.
Quinn is going to need help from his receivers picking up the hot reads. Braylon Edwards missed one in the Washington game. Derek Anderson threw to the spot where Edwards was supposed to be, and the pass was incomplete. Two plays later, Phil Dawson missed a 54-yard field goal.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Browns RCB Brandon McDonald vs. Broncos WR Brandon Marshall. Halfway through the season, Marshall already has 51 catches. He is 6-foot-4, 230 pounds and has a 6-inch height advantage on McDonald. McDonald gave up a deep touchdown pass to the Ravens' Mark Clayton last week. After being burned like that, he might decide to give Marshall a huge cushion.
Browns RB Jamal Lewis vs. Broncos run defense. After being stymied by the Ravens, the No. 1 run defense in the league, Lewis should have more success Thursday. The Broncos rank 26th in run defense and have already given up 10 rushing touchdowns. Lewis is still looking for his first 100-yard game this season. He doesn't need to hit that mark, but if he can gain 80 yards, it would take heat off of Quinn.
INJURY IMPACT: The Browns are not the same without Eric Steinbach at left guard. A rib injury is likely to keep him on the sideline. ... The pass offense would be helped if Donte Stallworth plays. He has missed five games with a quadriceps injury. The Browns are 2-1 when he plays and 1-4 when he doesn't.