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CLEVELAND 31, TENNESSEE 28 (OT)

Couch Shows Critics Why He's the Starter

September 23, 2002|From Associated Press

NASHVILLE — Tim Couch did his best to shut up the critics who thought backup Kelly Holcomb should be Cleveland's starting quarterback.

Phil Dawson's 33-yard field goal with 10:47 left in overtime Sunday gave the Browns a 31-28 victory over Tennessee after Couch rallied the Browns by throwing for three touchdowns, including two in the final 2:35 of regulation.

Couch was 36 for 50 for 326 yards in what he called his biggest moment in the NFL.

"There was a lot of talk this week whether I should even be the quarterback of this team. I've said all along I don't care what a lot of people on the outside think, but I know these guys in this locker room believe in me and I believe in myself," Couch said.

"Hopefully, today maybe I proved a point."

Couch, who sat out the first two games after tearing scar tissue in his right elbow, showed why Coach Butch Davis had no qualms putting him back in despite Holcomb being the NFL's second-rated passer.

The 1999 top draft pick picked apart the Titans in helping the Browns beat Tennessee for the second consecutive time.

Davis said he was proud of Couch for his play and how he ignored talk by people trying to create a quarterback controversy. He also loved how his Browns (2-1) overcame four turnovers the Titans turned into three touchdowns.

"I don't think there is a team in the NFL more deserving to win a game like this, with the times we've been snake-bitten the last few years. I talked to the team early in the week, and we brought up the first game of the year," Davis said of losing to Kansas City when Dwayne Rudd was penalized for taking off his helmet, giving the Chiefs the chance to win on a field goal with no time left.

"We said we can let that game do one of two things. It can either build some character for the team, teach us a lesson to fight the entire 60 minutes, or we can let it break us. I knew this team wouldn't want to surrender."

The Titans (1-2) led, 28-14, with 5:06 left and blew a second-half lead for a second consecutive week.

"We just simply could not make a play," Titan Coach Jeff Fisher said.

Couch needed 11 plays to go 80 yards to cut Tennessee's lead to 28-21 with a 12-yard touchdown toss to Andre Davis with 2:35 to go.

With Tennessee ready for an onside kick, Dawson pooch-kicked the ball over the Titans, and Dennis Northcutt recovered it before it went out of bounds at the Titan 42.

Nine plays later, Couch threw to Northcutt, who avoided rookie cornerback Mike Echols and scored with 12 seconds remaining.

Cleveland won the toss, and Couch needed eight plays to set up Dawson's winning field goal.

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