Cleveland Browns: Attaboy Colt McCoy—Now Grab a Headset and Take a Seat

Tom DelamaterAnalyst IOctober 18, 2010

Ben Roethlisberger, shown here with Colt McCoy after the Steelers' win over the Browns, was impressed with the rookie's NFL debut.
Ben Roethlisberger, shown here with Colt McCoy after the Steelers' win over the Browns, was impressed with the rookie's NFL debut.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Colt McCoy finally got his chance on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he made the most of it.

In fact, the rookie quarterback was downright impressive.

Placed squarely on the firing line in his professional debut, McCoy stared down the barrel of the gun that is the Pittsburgh defense and didn’t flinch, going 23-of-33 for 281 yards and a touchdown.

Yes, he threw two interceptions, but both were on tipped balls that bounced unfavorably into the hands of waiting Steeler defenders.

Post game comments were positive.

“I told him I was proud of him,” said Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

“At times, I didn’t even realize it was a rookie out there,” said Chansi Stuckey, who caught four of McCoy’s 23 completions.

“He showed a lot of poise. I was really encouraged by that,” said Browns’ coach Eric Mangini.

“I’m sure they are excited about him. They should be,” said Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin.

One game does not an NFL quarterback make, but it was a good start.

Now, please, Mr. Mangini, sit him back down.

Of course, post game pleas to the contrary were numerous, and predictable. You might as well play him from here on out. Get him out there, see what he can do. Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace are simply seat warmers, nothing more.

I’m not buying it. McCoy wasn’t supposed to play at all this year, and there’s a reason for it.

It’s not just because he’s a rookie.

It’s not just because Delhomme and Wallace are game-tested NFL quarterbacks.

It’s because the Browns lack the talent to compete week in and week out, and, sooner or later, that’s a prescription for disaster.

Fickle fans still blame Tim Couch for failing to meet their expectations in his brief, star-crossed career. Couch was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft and joined the Browns as a can’t-miss pro prospect.

Five years later he was beaten, bruised, bloodied, and out of football—ironically, just one year after leading the Browns to a playoff berth in only their fourth season back in the league.

Sadly, 12 years later, the franchise is still floundering, more devoid of talent than it was in Couch’s day.

Check the record: In Couch’s third season, the Browns were 7-9; in his fourth, 9-7 and in the playoffs. Even in his final year, they were 5-11.

This year they’re 1-5, with little relief in sight.

That’s why McCoy needs to return to the sidelines. Cleveland doesn’t need another Tim Couch.

The point of this season for McCoy was not to get game experience. It was to get reps in practice and learn by observing on Sundays. It was to absorb what he could from Delhomme and Wallace and prepare for better days ahead.

The Browns had no choice but to play him Sunday. What it showed, as much as anything, is that their plan is working. So stick with it. When either Delhomme or Wallace is ready, one of them should start.

Couch, maligned though he may be, remains the best quarterback the Browns have had since their return in 1999. Yet his psyche and his body were so badly beaten that he’s an afterthought in Cleveland. His name isn’t mentioned much, and he never shows his face in the town where he once was on the cusp of professional success.

Donovan McNabb was drafted the same year as Couch, by a playoff team, and he’s still making headlines in the NFL. Daunte Culpepper was in that class, too, and until this year was still in the league. He remains in football, in the UFL.

One lesson of the Couch-McNabb-Culpepper saga is that being surrounded by talent has its advantages.

It wasn’t an advantage McCoy enjoyed on Sunday. He was hurried, constantly forced out of the pocket, and sacked five times—yet he gave everyone a tantalizing glimpse of what he may be capable of over the long haul. Good for him.

That he came out unscathed was his good fortune. Now McCoy needs to pick up his clipboard, strap on his headset, and wait for his next opportunity.

Here’s hoping it’s not until next season—and that, by then, the Browns can surround him with the talent he’ll need to show what he can truly do at the pro level.