Another black eye for Browns, Couch

Updated: October 20, 2003, 6:39 PM ET

BEREA, Ohio -- Browns quarterback Tim Couch had a nasty black eye on Monday. The San Diego Chargers left a much deeper mark.

Couch's right eye was still swollen and shaded in hues of black, blue and purple, the result of a pregame collision he said happened with an unidentified teammate on Sunday.

It was a bad omen for the Browns and Couch, who took a bigger hit later when he got benched after throwing two costly interceptions in Cleveland's 26-20 loss to the previously winless Chargers.

The shaky performance could be the final flop for Couch, who lost his job in training camp and only got it back on a temporary basis when Kelly Holcomb broke his right leg in a Sept. 21 win at San Francisco.

But with Holcomb improving, Couch may not come off the sideline again.

"I don't know what's going to happen from this point on," Couch said. "But if they want me to come in and play, I have to be ready to go and put on a better performance."

Couch's 30.2 quarterback rating against the Chargers was the third worst of his career, and couldn't have come at a worse time.

Browns coach Butch Davis was noncommittal during his weekly news conference about who his starting QB will be Sunday at New England.

"He hasn't told us anything at all," said Couch, who didn't speak with reporters following Sunday's debacle. "I'm sure we'll find out, and if I'm the guy, I'm going to go in and play well."

Couch played superbly in a win at Pittsburgh two weeks ago, and he didn't do anything to hurt the Browns in a win over Oakland last week. But against San Diego, he made some of the same mistakes that have plagued him for five seasons.

In the second quarter, Couch locked in on wide receiver Quincy Morgan, allowing safety Kwamie Lassiter to intercept and return it 38 yards for a touchdown.

Couch's second pick came on an almost identical play in the third quarter, leading to a San Diego field goal that put the Chargers up 23-6.

At that point, Couch, who sprained his left ankle while being sacked earlier, had a feeling Davis would switch to Holcomb.

"I made two really bad reads and it really cost us," Couch said. "I wasn't surprised. I wasn't upset by it. I don't take getting pulled personally."

Holcomb came in and nearly rallied the Browns to a win by throwing two TD passes.

For not having practiced much in the past few weeks, Holcomb played well despite being slowed by a broken right leg and sprained left ankle.

Davis took a chance by bringing in Holcomb, but felt the Browns (3-4) needed a spark, even if it meant playing his hobbled quarterback behind an offensive line missing three starters because of injuries.

"We put him at risk yesterday by putting him out there," Davis said. "Thank goodness he didn't get sacked four or five times."

Couch has tried to stay upbeat throughout what could be his final season in Cleveland. However, he seemed unusually sullen while discussing his performance.

"I'm obviously upset about the game," Couch said.

Davis expected him to be.

"I think his mood is about the same as everybody else in this building," he said. "Everybody is sick over the fact that we didn't win, and disappointed. If anybody cares more about how they play and less about how we win, then they're on the wrong team. This is about the Browns trying to win games."

To do that, the Browns must cut down on the penalties (7), dropped passes (at least 6) and missed tackles (too many to count) that led to 17 points for the Chargers.

For the second time, Cleveland allowed a running back to gain 200 yards. LaDainian Tomlinson shredded the Browns for an even 200, with 70 coming on a backbreaking run in the third quarter seconds after Cleveland pulled within seven.

In Week 2, the Browns let Baltimore's Jamal Lewis set an NFL record with 295 yards rushing. They had seemingly fixed their rushing defense only to give up Tomlinson's outburst.

Davis is baffled by his team's inconsistency.

"We've talked about it for seven weeks," Davis said. "If you don't give up big plays you've always got a chance. If you protect the ball, you've always got a chance. Take 17 points off the board and it's probably a very different outcome."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index