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Published: Monday, 11/24/2003

Browns look just about like their record

CLEVELAND - As a talent evaluator, Butch Davis is a fine head coach.

Davis has his hands full coaching the Cleveland Browns. Playing personnel director and team spin doctor is asking a lot from Davis, the Browns' Answer Man.

Davis isn't questioning anything as it relates to his pride-and-joy defense.

Yesterday's debacle, a 13-6 loss to the equally feeble Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Stadium, was laid at the hands, feet and minds of Cleveland's offense.

Davis explained away nearly every mistake by referencing Cleveland's five turnovers and the offense's inability to score touchdowns in the red zone.

“You can't turn the ball over. This league is all about turnovers,” said Davis, whose Browns are 4-7 with five games to play. “You turn the ball over that many times, it's a miracle we were as close as we were.”

Running back James Jackson carried the ball 25 times for 94 yards, but he also lost two fumbles which Pittsburgh converted into 10 points.

Jackson started his third straight game for troubled second-year back William Green, who was suspended four games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.

Davis the quasi-general manager drafted Green when Clinton Portis was available. Jackson is another Davis draft pick, another former University of Miami star under Davis (like Portis) whose college and pro careers have been eclipsed by Portis.

No matter how much Davis may have disliked Portis coming out of college, there's no way, no how, Green should be wearing a Browns uniform instead of Portis. Especially since Green's future in Cleveland is now on hold because of potential substance-abuse and legal worries.

But we digress. The underlying message delivered yesterday by Davis seems to be that the Browns had a bad day in a battle of bad AFC North teams.

“We've been getting consistency in a lot of phases. Defensively, we've been consistent for 11 straight weeks,” said Davis.

I'm rejecting Davis' message because I haven't seen the Browns take one legitimate step toward grabbing control of a weak division.

Expectations? Oh, sure, they're relatively high for the Browns, who advanced to the playoffs last year at 9-7.

Browns fans don't deal in expectations. They deal in reality.

I don't understand why a Butch Davis-coached team couldn't win despite holding Pittsburgh to just 11 first downs and 168 total yards - the fewest yards allowed by the Browns since 1993, and the fewest yards given up by Cleveland in a loss since 1992.

“I just told them, until the league sends the letter saying, ‘you are absolutely out of this deal,' we have five games left. We'll try to win all five and see what happens,” said Davis.

His players respect him. Davis has total control in Cleveland.

“Against a team who we're better than, we've got to walk out of here with a win,” Browns cornerback Daylon McCutcheon. “Just because of the division we're in, we're not out of it.”

Davis has brainwashed the Browns into believing they're better than 4-7. Seeing yesterday's performance, however, is believing that the Browns are closer to a disappointing finish than another playoff appearance.

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