Browns still bad at home

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 2, 2003

BEREA - One day after bumbling their way to a humiliating home loss to the previously winless Cincinnati Bengals, the Cleveland Browns had their team photo taken on Monday.

Talk about lousy timing. Say, cheese? Please?

''Great day, a lot of smiles,'' guard Shaun O'Hara said sarcastically. ''It was like a funeral.''

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Frustrated by another bad loss, the Browns (1-3) are regrouping - when aren't they? - following Sunday's 21-14 disaster. They were sloppy, committing a season-high 11 penalties for 101 yards. They couldn't run the ball effectively on offense. And Cleveland's defense made Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna look like Johnny Unitas.

With the loss, the Browns fell to 0-2 at home this season, continuing a disturbing trend. They've gone just 3-9 in their last 12 home games and, since returning to the league in 1999, Cleveland is 9-25 at Browns Stadium.

It's become a case of home-field disadvantage.

''It's frustrating,'' O'Hara said. ''I just don't know why. We want to win at home. I wish I could find something to put my finger on.''

On Sunday, the Browns held their pregame warmup on the east end of the stadium for the first time, hoping to change their home-field jinx. No luck.

They played so poorly that eternally optimistic coach Butch Davis didn't even bother putting his usual positive day-after spin on things in his weekly news conference.

''We looked at the film thoroughly,'' Davis said. ''Clearly, the performance we had (Sunday) in several areas was unacceptable.''

The postgame wasn't much better.

As they left the field, quarterback Tim Couch and offensive tackle Ryan Tucker confronted angry Browns fans who profanely berated the players on their way to the locker room.

Couch, who has had a rocky relationship with Cleveland fans the past few years, threw an interception in the final minute while trying to rally the Browns.

The embattled QB yelled back at the heckler, challenging him to come down on the field before being pulled away and led to the locker room by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

Normally, Couch and Tucker would have ignored the taunts. But this time, they couldn't.

On Sunday, Tucker said if fans were going to turn on the Browns, they should send him their season tickets.

''I don't want them at the game,'' Tucker said.

Given a night to rethink things, Tucker said he regretted yelling back at the fan.

''I shouldn't have even acknowledged him,'' he said. ''It's part of my profession. I was upset coming off the field following a loss and I got emotional about it. I shouldn't have. They are there to have fun. We're there to win games.''

Davis knows that the losing is taking its toll on everyone - fans, players and coaches.

''We're frustrated,'' Davis said. ''The team wants to play better. It's understandable that the fans are frustrated. These guys all have high expectations of their own abilities to play and to perform. No one is more frustrated than the players and the coaches.''

And what about Tucker's offer to buy back the tickets?

''It's a joke,'' Tucker said. ''I'm being sarcastic.''

But the guys in the orange helmets seem to be a little edgy these days. In losing three of their first four, the Browns are putting themselves in the same hole as last season when they started 2-4 before recovering to make the playoffs.

Davis thinks one reason for the slow start may be his players are putting too much pressure on themselves.

''One of the things that has to change is that they have to quit playing every play like it's the end of the season,'' Davis said. ''Play hard. Play light's out, and when the play is over, rehuddle and don't allow that funk. If it's a bad play, it's a bad play.

''Bad things sometimes happen when you try too hard.''

Couch will start again

Tim Couch will start at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns this Sunday at Pittsburgh, replacing the injured Kelly Holcomb for the second straight week.

Holcomb, who passed for 429 yards - the third most in NFL postseason history - in a playoff loss to the Steelers last January, broke his right leg and sprained his left ankle two weeks ago at San Francisco and is not yet ready to play.

Holcomb was the Browns' No. 3 quarterback in last Sunday's loss to Cincinnati, backing up Couch and Nate Hybl, who was signed from the practice squad before the game.

Browns coach Butch Davis said Holcomb has improved and may be available as the No. 2 quarterback in Pittsburgh.

Before practice Wednesday, Holcomb said he felt ''a thousand times better'' than a week ago.