Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Sputtering Browns stick with Pederson

The Associated Press

        BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns aren't going to let five straight losses or the prospect of another 2-14 season turn their quarterback crisis into a quarterback controversy.

        Despite an anemic performance by his offense in Sunday's 22-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Browns coach Chris Palmer said he plans to stick with quarterback Doug Pederson, who was forced into the starting lineup when Tim Couch suffered a season-ending injury last week.

        When Couch broke his right thumb on the final play of practice on Thursday, Pederson, an eight-year veteran, had just one day to prepare for the Steelers.

        It showed. Pederson completed just 9-of-20 passes for 61 yards and had three interceptions. All three resulted in Pittsburgh points. There were times when Pederson didn't seem to have any idea where his passes were going.

        “I'm disappointed in what we did offensively,” Palmer said. “The offense did not play well and there's 11 characters involved in it. To put it on one character is not fair.”

        Cleveland's offense gained just 104 net yards — its lowest total since returning to the NFL last season — produced just five first downs and didn't cross midfield until there were 12 minutes left.

        Palmer isn't convinced that starting rookie backup Spergon Wynn in place of Pederson would make much of a difference.

        “I have a great deal of faith in Spergon,” Palmer said. “But I think the worst thing in the world is to throw a quarterback in when he's not quite ready.”

        After opening the season 2-1, the Browns have been outscored 143-41 in dropping five in a row. During the slide, they've been shut out twice.

        But Cleveland's defense wasn't the problem on Sunday. The Browns held the Steelers to 248 total yards and just 105 passing, both lows for Cleveland since rejoining the league.

        Pittsburgh was inside the red zone five times, but was held to just one TD and four field goals.

        And that one TD came courtesy of referee Ed Hochuli's whistle-happy officiating crew, which flagged rookie defensive end Courtney Brown for roughing Kordell Stewart on a third-down play. Instead of having to kick a field goal, the Steelers got a first down at the 5 and Jerome Bettis scored the game's only TD four plays later.

        In the third quarter, Jamir Miller was whistled for roughing Stewart on what looked like a clean hit.

        Fearing a fine from the NFL, Palmer was careful not to criticize the officials on Monday.

        “That's another one of those questions where I have to count to 10 before answering,” Palmer said.

        Asked if the defense would be taught to tackle the quarterback differently, Palmer said, “We will not curtail any of the activities of our defensive line. Our players will continue to play the way they're playing.”

        Once again, the Browns had some chances to make big plays but didn't.

        Rookie cornerback Lewis Sanders didn't hold onto an interception at the Steelers' 10 that could have been returned for an easy score. Anthony Malbrough missed a chance to recover a fumbled punt, and Corey Fuller had an interception negated by an interference call.

        “For us to be explosive and for us to do the things that we're capable of doing,” Palmer said. “We have to make the plays and get those breaks to go our way.”

        Despite losing four offensive starters to season-ending injuries, the Browns are at the midway point at 2-6, a one game improvement over 1999. Palmer remains confident his young team is developing and heading the right way.

        “I'm not disappointed,” he said. “I thought we were going pretty good when we started off 2-1. I liked our football team and I liked what we were doing. Now it's kind of changed because at some point we're going to have a lot of experience. There's no shortcut in building.”


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