Couch still in for Holcomb as Browns' QB

Updated: October 5, 2003, 1:19 PM ET
Associated Press

BEREA, Ohio -- Kelly Holcomb will have to wait for a second shot at beating the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns' quarterback had at least 429 reasons for wanting another try.

Nine months ago, the career backup filled in for Tim Couch and had one of the finest days in NFL playoff history, passing for 429 yards in Cleveland's 36-33 loss at Pittburgh's Heinz Field.

For now, Holcomb's encore has been postponed.

Holcomb will miss his second straight game with a broken right fibula and sprained left ankle. Barring an injury to Couch, Holcomb will be on the sideline Sunday night when the Browns (1-3) face the Steelers (2-2) in a nationally televised game.

Holcomb got hurt while leading Cleveland to a comeback win on Sept. 21 at San Francisco. Before Wednesday's practice, he was holding out hope that he would be well enough to play.

"I feel 1,000 times better," he said. "Every day it feels significantly better, but we'll have to see."

Less than three hours later, the Browns had seen that Holcomb still wasn't ready.

Following practice, Cleveland coach Butch Davis said Holcomb was not yet 100 percent and that Couch, who played well in his season debut last week but couldn't rally the Browns in a loss to Cincinnati, would start against the Steelers.

Pittsburgh has won six straight in its heated rivalry with Cleveland.

Davis said there's a chance Holcomb, who was the No. 3 quarterback against the Bengals, could be the backup.

"Our anticipation was that he will be physically and mentally prepared to be the No. 2," Davis said. "He did more today than he did a week ago, but he's not ready to do all the things you'd like to see him do. Tim will start."

So Couch will get a chance to finish what Holcomb started on Jan. 4.

In just his fourth career start, Holcomb shredded Pittsburgh's defense for the third-highest passing total in NFL playoff history -- a performance that vaulted Holcomb from obscurity and one he still has a hard time grasping.

"I mean, 429 yards," he said. "You can't expect to do that every time out."

Only Bernie Kosar (489 yards in 1987) and Dan Fouts (433, 1982) have thrown for more yards in a playoff game than Holcomb, and those were both in overtime.

And Holcomb's big day wasn't enough anyway.

The Browns blew a 24-7 lead in the third quarter as Tommy Maddox rallied the Steelers to 22 unanswered points, giving Pittsburgh its third win of the season against Cleveland.

Holcomb doesn't remember 429 as much as he does 36-33.

"We lost the game," he said when asked of his lasting memory of that snowy Sunday. "We played good offensively, but you're not in it to play good. You're in it to win."

Pittsburgh did, but other than the final score, it's a game Steelers coach Bill Cowher would probably rather forget.

Cowher spent part of his offseason addressing some of the defensive holes that Holcomb was able to exploit.

"Kelly came in and hit some big plays against us, especially early in the game that really set the tone," Cowher said. "He did a good job of throwing the ball down the field. We had a young player at the time in (backup cornerback) Hank Poteat and Kelly did a good job of finding him and searching him out and they made a lot of big plays."

Couch won his first two career starts against the Steelers, but has lost the last four. Last season, the Browns fell 16-13 in overtime at Pittsburgh and then 23-20 at home.

He was on the sideline with a broken fibula last year as Holcomb ripped the Steelers' secondary apart. But he has no allusions of trying to match it.

"I just want to win the game," he said. "I don't want to go out and try to outdo what he did. It's pretty amazing to go out and throw for more than 400 yards against anybody."


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press