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Published: Monday, 9/29/2003

Couch seems comfortable with his role

CLEVELAND - Tim Couch was talking optimistically about how he now views his new role on the Cleveland Browns. It seems Couch's biggest NFL disappointment - losing his job to Kelly Holcomb - is behind him.

“I wanted to go out and play well. I played hard. They told me to come out and play today, and that's all I wanted to do,” Couch said yesterday after throwing a back-breaking interception in Cleveland's demoralizing 21-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

“I'm not upset with my performance, other than the last throw,” said Couch, who passed for 280 yards and two touchdowns. “I just executed the game plan as well as I could.”

Because Holcomb is sidelined with a broken right fibula he suffered against San Francisco a week ago, it was Couch's game to win or lose.

Riding the bench for the first time after four seasons as a starting pro quarterback has humbled Couch some.

Frankly, Couch never had to look down the gun barrel and admit he was at a crossroads. He now knows what it feels like to carry a clipboard with Holcomb stealing the spotlight.

And, really, it's not about Couch. Well, OK, maybe it used to be. Mainly, however, it's about Couch reclaiming his confidence and his career.

If he's bothered by the demotion, he's done a fabulous job of shielding his true feelings. He's putting the past behind him.

“I'm not trying to get into a quarterback debate. I'm just going to play whenever my number's called,” said Couch, who had a shouting match with a fan on his way to the Browns' locker room at the conclusion of the game. “Next week, if they want me to play, I'll play. If Kelly gets healthy enough to get back on the field, it's his job and I'll be ready to go whenever my chance comes up again.”

Funny he would say that. Throughout the offseason Couch was perceived to be the starter. And do understand that when Holcomb started three games in 2002, it was done with the understanding that Couch would reclaim the job when he was healthy.

With Butch Davis, Cleveland's starting quarterback wasn't going to be an issue. And it probably wouldn't have been until Holcomb clearly outplayed Couch in the preseason, leaving Davis with no choice but to make the switch.

Davis made no promises regarding Couch's possibly reclaiming the starting job based on yesterday's performance heading into next week's game at Pittsburgh. “Right now, it's kind of premature to speculate. We'll have to evaluate that when next week gets here.”

Cleveland's offensive coaches wanted to establish a grind-it-out running attack against Cincinnati, but that plan was scrapped when the Browns went into a comeback mode after falling behind 21-14 in the third quarter.

Couch took full blame for throwing the game's only interception. With time running out, Couch tried to force a pass to Kevin Johnson. Cornerback Jeff Burris stepped in front of Johnson and picked the ball off with 51 seconds remaining to ensure Cincinnati's first win.

Couch may never have a better chance to make a new first impression.



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