CLEVELAND - He hasn't been in Cleveland long, but Browns coach Butch Davis has made a major impression in a short time. When the Browns lose like they did yesterday, a game they probably should have won, it's difficult to point the finger of blame.
I still don't know what to make of the Browns' wrenching 9-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Rian Lindell's 52-yard field goal with three seconds on the clock.
Do we mourn the Browns for losing another game? Do we celebrate the team's great defensive effort that went for naught?
Can we do both?
I liked what I saw for most of Davis' debut in the 2001 opener at Cleveland Browns Stadium. I'll like it better if the Browns learn something from their sixth consecutive loss since beating New England in Week 11 last season.
“There's definitely a different feeling on the team. Guys felt like we were going to win,” Browns quarterback Tim Couch said.
As he has done for most of his brief NFL career, Couch didn't lose the game, but he didn't help win it either.
Couch was 17 of 33 for 176 yards and no touchdowns against an inexperienced Seattle secondary featuring three new starters because of injuries. Couch's third-quarter interception ended a promising drive at the Seattle 25. The Browns later failed to score the go-ahead touchdown on third-and-goal at the 5. Couch's pass to rookie Quincy Morgan was broken up in the end zone, forcing the Browns to settle for Phil Dawson's 22-yard field goal and a 6-6 deadlock with 2:14 remaining.
When asked why the Browns didn't challenge Seattle's defensive backs with a flurry of long passes, Couch credited a pass rush that dropped him three times.
“We challenged them early with play-action,” said Couch, who directed an offense that produced a total of two field goals.
“We've been having great practices. But we've got to play better on Sundays.”
Said Davis: “We made mistakes in crucial situations.”
Cleveland's biggest breakdown was a back-breaker. Charlie Rogers' 49-yard kickoff return led to Seattle's game-winning field goal.
Inconsistent offense aside, we did learn that the Browns, as long as their defense stays healthy and motivated, should improve on their 3-13 record of last season. The Browns could win five or six games.
I don't agree with Davis' preseason prediction that the playoffs are a reasonable goal.
I still question the Browns' lack of a consistent ground game that averaged 3.6 yards on 25 carries yesterday.
Browns' fans are exceedingly loyal. The offense didn't hear the first boo-birds until the second half, with Cleveland trailing 6-3.
On the other hand, Cleveland's defense, which sacked Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck five times and limited the Seahawks to three field goals, was serenaded with chants of “DEE-FENSE, DEE-FENSE!” from its appreciative fans.
“It's only going to be a matter of time before the fans start chanting for the offense,” said Browns defensive end Keith McKenzie, who recorded one sack yesterday. “We lost the first game, but, who knows? We can still go 15-1.”
The Browns believe they have put the past behind them. They want us to become believers too. But we need more evidence first.
John Harris is a Blade sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.