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Published: Tuesday, 11/7/2000

Spirit intact for Browns

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BEREA, O. - Before fans start showing up at Cleveland Browns Stadium with bags over their heads, quarterback Doug Pederson would like everyone to know that he's keeping his head up.

“I think there has been improvement the last three weeks,'' Pederson said. “I know it's tough to see from the outside, but we're moving in the right direction. Better days are ahead.''

Browns fans might find that hard to believe, considering the team is in a seven-game skid, but it's apparent Pederson is becoming more comfortable with the Cleveland offense.

Now, if he can just find a way to get his team into the end zone, a portion of the field the Browns haven't visited in 13 quarters.

“It's frustrating when you don't score,'' Pederson said. “I know it's tough for people to understand that we can go 13 quarters without a touchdown and still feel we're getting better.

“There's no magic formula. We just have to keep working until we crack it open. When we do, it could snowball.''

In his third start Sunday, a 24-3 loss to the visiting New York Giants, Pederson completed 17 of 29 passes for 176 yards. That was his best performance since replacing the injured Tim Couch as starting quarterback.

“We are the only team in the league to lose both our starting and second quarterbacks,'' said coach Chris Palmer, whose Browns lost backup Ty Detmer for the year to a preseason injury. “Pederson is really going through training camp right now. He is showing improvement by picking things up and getting a better feel for the receivers.''

In particular, Pederson has found himself on the same wavelength with wideout Kevin Johnson, who had a 100-yard game two Sundays ago against Cincinnati and followed up with five catches for 76 yards against the Giants.

“We're going through a lot right now,'' Johnson said. “How much can this team take? That's a good question. But we have to keep a positive attitude. We're being paid to perform. We have to keep doing our jobs and hope to break out of this. We're closer than people might think.''

Closer to scoring? Closer to winning?

“Well, we have to do one before we can do the other,'' Johnson said. “You're not going to win games by 3-0 in this league. We have to find a way to get the ball in the end zone.''

Pederson says that's his responsibility.

“I'm the leader of the offense so I have to get it done,'' the journeyman said. “Everybody knows our injury situation, but the guys are sticking together. There's no finger pointing. The only way to get over the hump is to get the ball in the end zone. Once we do it, I think it'll change the tide.''

Cleveland has botched first-and-goal chances from the opponents' 1 yard line in each of the past two games.

“Yeah, that's really disappointing,'' Pederson said. “You want the touchdown. Field goals are good, but the bottom line is getting the ball in the end zone. Everybody gets down when you blow opportunities.

“We'll watch the films and it's always something small. I'll say, `Man, if we'd done this or that.' I know that's after the fact, but it's all a learning process. We're 2-8, but in the NFL you play 16 games, not 10. We have another week to rebound and get better. Then another week.

“We did some good things against the Giants. The play-action pass was good for us. If we can do a better job of establishing the run, then the play action will be even more effective.

“I was better this week than I was last week, and I was better last week than the week before. We just have to keep progressing.''

Pederson feels he has plenty of talent to work with despite the team's long injury list.

“Our receiving corps is a good place to start,'' he said. “When I was a backup with the Packers we had Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman. I see a lot of the same things when I look at K.J. and (Dennis) Northcutt.

“Dennis is a real tough individual and K.J. is very maneuverable, very shifty. They both know how to get open.''

NOTES: Cleveland's already-ample injury list grew Sunday when linebacker Ryan Taylor suffered a broken leg ... Look for 6-6, 325-pound James Brown to get more playing time. Palmer is unhappy with recent performances by right tackle Steve Zahursky ... Punter Chris Gardocki had an all-star outing against the Giants. He booted a 63-yarder, killed three punts inside the 20 and averaged 49.2 yards on six kicks ... Jamel White could replace Travis Prentice in the starting lineup at running back next Sunday when New England visits Cleveland Browns Stadium.



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