By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
Here are some of my biggest takeaways from the Mike Holmgren-Tom Heckert news conference on Thursday:
–It’s clear that the Browns are leaving the door fairly wide open for their starting quarterback spot in 2012. Not that this is a huge surprise, but it lends some clarity to the team’s perspective on Colt McCoy. Holmgren said he “wasn’t ready to anoint Colt yet,” which means McCoy could return as the starter. But it also means that there truly will be competition for the No. 1 spot. Who will be the competitors? Holmgren said the Browns have “three good quarterbacks” in McCoy, Seneca Wallace, and Thaddeus Lewis. But Holmgren also stressed his belief that a quarterback should be added to the team each year, so there will be someone else in the mix … possibly from the draft and/or free agency.
–The quarterback competition won’t drag on so far that it is a question mark when the season begins. Holmgren made the point that he didn’t expect it to last until the final game of the preseason. That’s a good thing. It’s important for the rest of the team (let alone everyone else) to know the starter’s identity as soon as possible, and the team president recognizes that.
–The 4-12 record notwithstanding, it is not “business as usual” around the Browns. Holmgren talked about the difference between the way the club does things now, compared to the past, as the basis for believing the Browns aren’t merely on a treadmill. “The difference is we’re going to stay the course and do it a certain way,” Holmgren said. “I have an owner (Randy Lerner) who supports us to do it this way. The growing pains are difficult. I understand that.” The bottom line, as the team president said, is that the team is not going to “blow it all up and start over.”
–After two defensive-oriented drafts, it’s no secret the Browns are going to take an offensive-minded approach to free agency and the draft. Heckert didn’t say a whole lot during the session, which was understandable because there weren’t any specifics he could address regarding players the team might pursue in free agency or the draft. But the GM said a mouthful when he offered this general take on the Browns’ offseason plans: “On offense, we want guys who score touchdowns.”
–Holmgren offered strong support to his coach, Pat Shurmur. And why wouldn’t he? Shurmur was a first-year coach who worked with the severe handicap of a lockout offseason, a high number of injuries to key players (including the utter destruction of the Browns’ running game), and bizarre occurrences such as the sudden erosion of skills of once-reliable long-snapper Ryan Pontbriand that helped result in two losses. But Holmgren did talk about the learning curve Shurmur faced as a first-year coach and the challenges of doubling as the Browns’ offensive coordinator. And Holmgren made it clear that he expects better results in 2012, and if the Browns again go 4-12 he “wouldn’t be a happy camper.”
–On the topic of the Browns’ pursuit of an offensive coordinator, Holmgren went out of his way to praise Shurmur for his unselfishness in keeping an open mind toward the possibility of allowing the new hire to call plays, a role that Shurmur handled and a favorite part of the job for any offensive-minded head coach.
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By: Steve King, Contributor to ClevelandBrowns.com
Any loss to your arch rival is tough to take.
But it’s even tougher when it comes in the postseason … and it’s a game you seemingly had won in the third quarter … and your quarterback has a performance for the ages.
That’s the best way to describe the Browns’ 36-33 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card round of the 2002 AFC playoffs on Jan. 5, 2003 at Heinz Field.
The Browns, making their lone playoff appearance of the expansion era, led 24-7 in the third quarter and 33-21 with a little more than three minutes left in the game. However, quarterback Tommy Maddox, named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year that season, led the Steelers to 15 unanswered points and the improbable victory.
The Browns, who had finished 9-7 and snared the conference’s last wild-card playoff spot on the final day of the regular season, wasted no time getting started, opening the scoring on a one-yard touchdown run by rookie William Green in the first quarter.
The Browns, who fell twice to the Steelers during the regular season in hard-fought games, 16-13 in overtime and 23-20, made it 14-0 in the second quarter on a 32-yard pass from Kelly Holcomb to wide receiver Dennis Northcutt.
Holcomb, who stepped in when Tim Couch suffered a broken bone in his leg in a 24-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons the week before, was brilliant. In fact, he turned in one of the more prolific games in NFL postseason history, hitting on 26 of 43 passes for 429 yards and three touchdowns with one interception for a 107.6 quarterback rating.
Antwaan Randle El’s 66-yard punt return for a touchdown finally got the Steelers on the board in the second quarter, but Phil Dawson’s 31-yard field goal and another Holcomb-to-Northcutt pass, this one for 15 yards, gave the Browns a seemingly commanding 24-7 advantage with 12:11 left in the third quarter.
Maddox’s six-yard pass to Plaxico Burress cut the lead to 24-14 by the end of the quarter.
A 24-yard field goal by Dawson to start the fourth quarter, then Maddox’s three-yard TD pass to tight end Jerame Tuman made it 27-21.
The Browns followed that up with Holcomb’s 22-yard pass to wide receiver Andre Davis to increase the lead to 33-21 with 10:17 left and seemed to be in good shape.
Wide receiver Hines Ward caught a five-yard TD pass from Maddox to put the score at 33-28 with 3:06 remaining.
Still, the Browns had a chance to put the game away, but they dropped a wide-open pass and failed to get a first down on their ensuing possession. Had they done so, they could have run out the clock.
The Steelers took advantage and drove for Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala’s three-yard scoring run, then Tuman caught a Randle El pass on a trick play to get the two-point conversion for a 36-33 lead.
The Browns frantically drove downfield but ran out of time before getting into range for Dawson to try a tying field goal.
The Browns rolled up 447 total yards, converted 8-of-17 attempts (47 percent) on third down and had just one turnover, but still had nothing to show for it.
It was, indeed, a bitter pill to swallow.
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