Eliminating turmoil generates offense for Browns

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 17, 2003

CLEVELAND - Finally free of the turmoil, the Cleveland Browns showed they can play football, too.

Following a weeklong soap opera that included the release of their leading receiver and suspension of their leading rusher, the Browns played their best game this season, a 44-6 rout of the hapless Arizona Cardinals.

By dominating from the opening kickoff, the Browns (4-6) snapped a three-game losing streak and moved within one game of first place in the AFC North.

Email newsletter signup

''We needed to make a stand,'' coach Butch Davis said. ''It was time. This was put-up or shut-up time for us. If we were going to get back in it, this was kind of the defining moment of the season.''

Kelly Holcomb passed for 392 yards and three touchdowns and the Browns showed no signs of disarray while rolling to their most lopsided win since 1989.

James Jackson had two TD runs and Phil Dawson kicked three field goals for the Browns, who endured a chaotic week leading into the game.

On Tuesday, Davis released wide receiver Kevin Johnson. Thursday, the NFL suspended star running back William Green four games for violating the league's substance abuse program.

But the Browns showed no after effects from the drama. In fact, they seemed stronger from it.

''We've had a lot of stuff go on the past couple of weeks,'' Holcomb said. ''It's a credit to those guys in the locker room to handle it.''

Facing the Cardinals (3-7) helped. Arizona didn't cross midfield until late in the first half, was outgained 235-60 by halftime, finished with just 10 first downs and 187 total yards.

''This was a humiliating defeat,'' Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis said. ''This was as lopsided from one side to the other as I have ever been around. I haven't looked at the stats - I don't need to. I lived through it.''

Holcomb stayed in until the end and finished 29-of-35 with no interceptions. He completed passes to eight receivers in recording the fifth highest yardage total in team history.

''Hopefully, we can do that every week,'' Holcomb said.

Following Johnson's release, Davis held a team meeting to explain his actions and why he thought what he was doing was in the team's best interest.

Apparently, they believed him, responding with three days of crisp practices and Sunday's startling win.

''The week was incredible,'' Quincy Morgan said. ''People were talking bad about us, but we came together as a team. This isn't all about K.J. (Johnson). When he was here, we were 3-6.''

While there was speculation that Johnson's release would fracture the team, linebacker Brant Boyer sensed during the week that the Browns were unified.

''Guys showed that they wanted to keep fighting,'' he said. ''All of this stuff brought us together.''

Holcomb spread the ball around to his talented trio of wideouts, hitting Andre' Davis, Dennis Northcutt and Morgan with his scoring tosses.

''It shows what this offense is capable of doing,'' Holcomb said. ''We had some big plays, and that's what we've been missing.''

Andre' Davis, who had replaced Johnson in the starting lineup last week, had a career-high seven catches for 117 yards. Morgan finished with 116 yards, giving Cleveland two receivers with more than 100 yards in a game for the first time since 1983.

Arizona quarterback Jeff Blake went 9-of-21 for 121 yards before being lifted early in the fourth quarter for Josh McCown.

''We didn't do anything, period,'' Blake said. ''None of us played. I'm dumbfounded.''

The Browns scored on their first four possessions while taking a 20-3 lead at halftime.

Notes: Arizona has lost 10 straight road games. … Cardinals LB Ray Thompson sprained his neck trying to make a tackle in the third quarter. X-rays were negative. … Browns rookie RB Lee Suggs played for the first time this season after undergoing shoulder surgery. He gained 5 yards on five carries and had a solid tackle while covering a kickoff. … Cleveland had three interceptions.