Browns beat Falcons, may lose Verba

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 29, 2003

CLEVELAND (AP) -- The Cleveland Browns ended the preseason with their first win -- and potentially a big loss.

Kelly Holcomb looked sharp in limited playing time as the Browns avoided their first winless exhibition season since 1972 on Thursday night with a 20-9 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

However, the win was tempered by an injury to starting offensive tackle Ross Verba, who left the field in the first half clutching his right arm and walked out of the stadium following the game wearing a sling.

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X-rays were negative, but the Browns said Verba will be reevaluated on Friday.

Verba protects Holcomb's blindside, and the Browns are counting on him to keep it safe.

For the first time this summer, the Browns looked ready for the regular season.

''We ran the ball well, and our defense played well,'' Browns coach Butch Davis said. ''We pressured the quarterback. We were stingy against the run. Those are all positive steps forward.''

Holcomb, who beat out Tim Couch for the starting job during training camp, completed a 68-yard pass on his first throw as the Browns (1-3) tuned up for their Sept. 7 opener against the Indianapolis Colts.

Couch replaced Holcomb in the second quarter and threw a 57-yard TD pass to Dennis Northcutt. Couch, who looked horrible last week in his first game since losing his job, finished 7-of-8 for 144 yards.

Atlanta's Doug Johnson, filling in at QB while Michael Vick recovers from a broken leg, passed for 147 yards and Jay Feely kicked a 51-yard field goal for the Falcons (0-4).

''Baltimore went 0-4 in the preseason,'' Johnson said. ''And they won the Super Bowl.''

Peerless Price caught a TD pass and had 90 receiving yards for Atlanta, which will open the regular season at Dallas.

Cleveland's first-team defense, shredded during its first three exhibition games, looked much better against a Falcons' offense sorely missing Vick.

The Browns' defense came onto the field together during pregame introductions, an attempt to show there were no hard feelings from last week when players argued on the sideline in Detroit.

Safety Robert Griffith (broken finger) played for the first time in the preseason, and end Courtney Brown looked better as he continues a comeback from knee surgery.

''We finally put things together,'' tackle Gerard Warren said. ''We came out looking more like we need to look.''

Johnson completed 11-of-21 passes, including a 33-yard TD pass to Price in the second quarter when coach Dan Reeves left his offensive starters in to get some extra work against the Browns' No. 2 defense.

However, Johnson and Atlanta's first-team offense struggled to get going because of several drive-killing penalties in the first half.

''If everybody works as hard Doug, and does the things he does, I think we will be ready,'' Reeves said.

Atlanta safety Cory Hall sprained his right knee in the first half.