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Eric Mangini not ready to pick QB

BEREA, Ohio -- Eric Mangini didn't see any trick-or-treaters dressed like rookie quarterback Colt McCoy while the Browns coach was out with his three sons.

However, there were little No. 12s running around neighborhoods all over Cleveland.

McCoy is clearly the people's choice.

But is he Mangini's?

Cleveland's coach did little to clear up his quarterback quandary on Monday, saying he has not yet decided on his starter for Sunday when the Browns (2-5) host the New England Patriots (6-1). Mangini did not provide any clues if he's leaning in any direction, and restated that his final choice will be based on the player that gives his team the best opportunity to succeed.

"We're playing to win the games," he said.

On their first day back from the bye week, Cleveland's three quarterbacks were all in different places.

McCoy was on the practice field, throwing, running and looking like a leader. Seneca Wallace was in the trainer's room, getting more medical treatment on a lingering ankle injury. And Jake Delhomme was somewhere at the Browns' facility, just nowhere in sight.

By Sunday, one of them will be back in the starting lineup.

At this point, which one is anyone's guess.

McCoy appears to be the front-runner to make his third consecutive start. The third-round pick, who showed extraordinary confidence and composure in road starts at Pittsburgh and New Orleans to begin his NFL career, was the only one of the trio to practice on Monday.

He may lack experience, but at least he's healthy.

McCoy declined a formal interview, but the former Texas standout did spend a few minutes lamenting another loss by his beloved Longhorns, who retired his No. 12 jersey Saturday before getting beat by Baylor. McCoy promised to speak to reporters Wednesday, when he may know if he'll be facing Bill Belichick's defense.

Mangini has been impressed with McCoy's maturity and ability to handle the pressure in two of the league's toughest environments. The 24-year-old kept his cool against the Steelers' blitz, and effectively managed Cleveland's offense in the Browns' upset of the Saints.

Mangini is waiting for either Wallace or Delhomme to practice before he discusses the quarterback situation with team president Mike Holmgren. However, the second-year coach sounds as if he would have no reservations in starting McCoy again.

"I've been pleased with what Colt has done, but I was pleased with what Seneca had done as well," he said. "That's a good situation, where you have two guys that it's not like either guy went in and you're looking for the next alternative."

But if Wallace has healed, there's a chance Mangini would return to the career backup who was playing well before injuring his ankle before halftime on Oct. 10.

Wallace took a politically correct stance, insisting it's up to Mangini and his staff. But the 30-year-old, who took over in the second half of the season opener when Delhomme got hurt, wants to lead the Browns. He's gotten one chance. He's hoping for another.

"The only thing I can do is make sure I do the right things in my offense," said Wallace, who could be back on Wednesday. "At the end of the day, it's the coaches' decision to say, 'Hey, this guy is the starter. This is who we're gonna go with this week.' I think it's always important to get a quarterback in rhythm. Let him play, continue to keep playing and he's gonna get better and better each week, hopefully."

There's a belief that no player should lose his starting job because of injury. There are also exceptions. Mangini was an assistant in New England when Tom Brady came off the bench in his second season to replace Drew Bledsoe and led the Patriots to a Super Bowl win.

"I don't think any rule is hard and fast," he said. "Each situation you have to look at a little bit differently. I don't really feel like it's just one universal rule that can be applied to every single guy."

Mangini is sensitive to how his quarterback decision will play in Cleveland's locker room. While the Browns have playoff aspirations, the reality is that it will be tough for them to make the postseason. If he sticks with McCoy over a healthy Wallace or Delhomme, it could be perceived the Browns are already pointing toward next season.

Mangini, though, believes McCoy's performance has rendered that discussion futile.

"Everybody can see he's done good things and if he continues to do good things they'll see that too," he said. "If they feel like you're playing someone to justify a draft pick or to justify a salary, they don't feel like you're doing what you're supposed to do.

"You're holding up your end of the bargain giving everybody the chance to win. That's more important because it doesn't matter how you got here. It matters what you do while you're here and how you help the group be successful."

Mangini spent Halloween night with his boys and brother-in-law, Indians president Mark Shapiro. As they walked the streets, Mangini noted a few revelers running around in costumes like Browns wide receiver Joshua Cribbs "with the dreads."

Mangini didn't get much feedback about his quarterback decision, but got some other comments.

"One guy came up and said, 'You two guys, great costumes. You look just like Mark Shapiro and Eric Mangini'," Mangini said. "I said, 'Thanks, I've been working on it.'"