Holcomb hopes to improve his game

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 19, 2003

BEREA - This hasn't been the start Kelly Holcomb always dreamed of.

Life as an NFL starter hasn't begun as he had hoped, and Wednesday the Cleveland Browns quarterback stood at his locker and pointed a finger at the problem.

''The bottom line is that I've stunk,'' Holcomb said.

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It's hard to argue with him. Through two games, Holcomb, a career backup picked over Tim Couch to be Cleveland's starter this season, has been awful.

He has one touchdown pass and four interceptions in eight quarters. His QB rating of 49.4 is the worst among AFC starters, and he has looked nothing like the confident QB who riddled Pittsburgh for 429 yards in the AFC playoffs last January or the one who outplayed Couch for most of the summer.

There's another bottom line: he's 0-2 as a starter.

''I've messed up,'' Holcomb said. ''It's all on me.''

During the Browns' 33-13 drubbing on Sunday in Baltimore, Holcomb went 17-of-37 for 147 yards and two interceptions. He had three other passes that probably should have been picked off. He was indecisive, missed targets and didn't adjust to Baltimore's ''Cover 2'' defense.

''I didn't play well,'' Holcomb said. ''I had receivers open. The offensive line did a good job blocking. I didn't make plays, that's what it boils down to.''

The timing of Holcomb's critical self-evaluation was curious.

Following Sunday's game, he didn't want to talk about his own performance. Instead, he blamed Cleveland's offensive struggles on the lack of a running game, poor field position and penalties.

On Monday, Holcomb informed reporters that he wasn't doing any interviews.

Coach Butch Davis then made excuses for his QB, saying his quarterback had played well but was undone by the Browns' inability to gain positive yards on first down, self-destructive penalties and the inability of Cleveland's receivers to get open.

Davis also said he wasn't switching to Couch.

Two days later, Holcomb took one for the team.

''It's all on me because I brought it on myself,'' he said. ''I haven't played good for two weeks. I put the team in bad situations, and I've got to fess up to it.''

Holcomb made just four career starts in seven years before the season opener against Indianapolis. He didn't expect to come in and pass for 400 yards every game, but he didn't think he would struggle this badly.

''I knew it wasn't going to be easy,'' he said. ''This is not an easy game. It's not an easy league. But it comes down to winning and losing. Up to this point, it hasn't been good on my part.''

Wide receiver Kevin Johnson figured Holcomb would take his lumps. Stepping in as a starter is far different from coming in off the bench.

Expectations are higher. So is the pressure.

''Everybody knows this is his first time as a starter, let's be honest about this,'' said Johnson. ''It's easy to come in as the backup and make plays. You come in the building on Monday morning as the starting quarterback, it's a different responsibility. Everyone thought it was going to be easy. It's a tough job.''

Davis, who went on a ''gut feeling'' when he named Holcomb his starter, wasn't surprised to hear that his quarterback had owned up to his shaky start.

''That's the kind of leader he is,'' Davis said. ''He's tough on himself because he has high expectations. He has played well in the past, and wants to play well again.''

Holcomb's poor start can be traced to him trying to be too perfect. Instead of taking advantage of what defenses are giving him, Holcomb has been forcing the issue.

He needs to relax, but until he gets that first win, that's going to be hard to do.

''I think everyone has been in the pressing mode,'' he said. ''You have to go the speed limit sometimes. You have to go 55 (mph). You can't go 90 or 100 and that's what I've been trying to do. I've been trying to go 100 when 55 is better.''

Especially when you're a No. 1.