Browns Back Where They Started

Looking back to the preseason, an arm injury to Tim Couch may just end up benefiting the 2002 Browns, more than anyone could have ever imagined.<br><br>These "New Look" Browns are something the Steelers have yet to experience.

The 2002 season has been a season of the unexpected for the Browns. It is fitting that Kelly Holcomb will have the opportunity to finish what he started in this 2002 season.

Holcomb started the season as the starting quarterback while Tim Couch mended his wounded wing. Leading the Browns to a 1-1 record, he played extremely well in the Browns opening day loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and backed that up with a workmanlike performance against the Bengals.

If there was ever a doubt that the team wasn't in good hands while Couch was out, you couldn't see it from the productivity and leadership on the field.

"Maybe what happened in the first part of the season was a blessing in disguise," Davis said. "Our guys certainly got a glimpse of what Kelly is capable of doing."

Tim Couch returned in week three, which led Holcomb return to the duties of backup quarterback. The only snaps from center Holcomb had taken before being thrust into action against the Falcons was in the Browns ugly loss at home in early October against the Baltimore Ravens after Couch suffered a concussion.

Against the Ravens, Holcomb sprained a knee and broke his leg while bringing the Browns back from certain defeat. Down 23-0 in the third quarter, Holcomb rallied the Browns to the Baltimore 17-yard line late in the game, before losing 26-21.

Against the Falcons, Holcomb struggled. Lets remember, however, that Holcomb hadn't played in eleven weeks. He was sidelined with injuries and he is the backup quarterback. The significance is that the backup quarterback in Cleveland only receives about 15-percent of snaps (between 20-25) per week in practice. Holcomb should improve after receiving a full week of practice preparation to face the Steelers.

Holcomb made no excuses about his performance against the Falcons. Uncharacteristically, he held onto the ball too long, taking three sacks, threw two interceptions, and was a split second late in his reads and reactions. Butch Davis was much more diplomatic in assessing the situation for the upcoming week.

"Getting Kelly into the flow of taking 80-to-85 percent of the snaps in practice this week will certainly help him. He'll be able to execute the gameplan," Davis said.

The Browns do not look for Holcomb to be their savior, nor does he expect to be. Holcomb said it best in a local late night Browns recap show Sunday night: "I need to play better, with a full week of practice I will be more comfortable and the game will slow down. It had been a long time since I was out there (on the field), but that is no excuse. It is my job to manage the game and not get caught up in everything that s going on."

This contest between the Browns and Steelers in Pittsburgh has the makings of a very interesting matchup. Pittsburgh has not played against this "New Look" Browns team. Although the offense is generally the same, some of the faces have changed, either due to necessity or from the growth process that comes with experience.

In is the revamped rushing attack led by William Green. At quarterback, Holcomb replaces Couch - say what you want, the change will create an unexpected element for the Steelers. The return of Dennis Northcutt to the team last week was key for many reasons. The punt return game struggled in his absence and his presence will create mismatches in the secondary. And, last but not least, this Browns team is not intimidated by the Steelers. They fullly believe they can and will win in Pittsburgh. The Browns have played a much more physical brand of football over the past six-to-eight weeks of the season and there is no reason to expect anything different Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Holcomb has longed for the opportunity to lead a team and has wanted to prove that he was a starting quality quarterback in the NFL. He is now the man on the spot. Holcomb was quiet during the season when a quarterback controversy was brewing, and now he can let his play speak for him.

With a full week of practice, the Holcomb-led Browns will play their first playoff game since 1994. 

His teammates know that he can get the job done.

"Hey, things happen for a reason," Browns wide receiver Dennis Northcutt said. "Early in the season Kelly played well, it helped him and helped everyone on this team know that he can get the job done. We have all the confidence in the world in Kelly. We've seen him do it before."

 


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