Thursday, January 2, 2003
It will be Holcomb's fourth pro start, and by far the biggest game of his career.
BEREA, Ohio (AP) -- Hours before leading the Cleveland Browns into the playoffs, quarterback Kelly Holcomb warmed up his arm -- and vocal chords.
As rapper Eminem's hit "Lose Yourself" boomed through the stadium's loudspeakers, Holcomb pumped up himself and teammates by barking out the lyrics.
"It's a good song. You only get one shot in life and you better make the most of it," Holcomb said, paraphrasing the key verse. "It's got a good message."
And for Holcomb, a fitting one.
The longtime backup, who came off the bench last week when Tim Couch broke his right leg against Atlanta, will start Cleveland's first playoff game since 1994 as the Browns travel to Pittsburgh on Sunday for a first-round AFC matchup.
It will be just Holcomb's fourth start as a pro, and the biggest game of his career -- by far.
"We played a couple powerhouses when I was in college," said Holcomb, who played at tiny Middle Tennessee State. "Nebraska almost killed me. They hit me on every play."
Most teams might panic at the prospect of having to play their No. 2 quarterback in the postseason against one of the league's toughest defenses.
Not the Browns (9-7), who have called on Holcomb before.
And he has always come through.
"There's no drop-off with Holcomb in," wide receiver Quincy Morgan said. "We still got a general who is going to lead us down the field. Holcomb would start for a lot of teams."
Holcomb started the Browns' first two games this season, filling in against Kansas City and Cincinnati while Couch recovered from an elbow injury.
Holcomb's season-opening start against the Chiefs was his first since 1997 for Indianapolis, and he made the most of it.
End to remember
He went 27-of-39 for 326 yards and three TD passes and would have led the Browns to a victory if linebacker Dwayne Rudd had left his helmet on.
In Week 2, Holcomb passed for 198 yards and two more TDs in Cleveland's 20-7 win over the Bengals. He didn't throw an interception in either game.
Holcomb nearly rallied the Browns to a win over Baltimore on Oct. 6 after Couch suffered a concussion. He played most of the fourth quarter of that game with a broken leg, hobbling to the line of scrimmage and back to pass.
Until he got the call last week, Holcomb hadn't played a down in 10 weeks, and it showed. Against Atlanta, he threw two interceptions, blew a 10-point lead, and wasn't sharp before finally throwing a fourth-quarter TD pass to Kevin Johnson and leading the Browns to a 24-16 win.
Adjusting to the game's speed was the biggest challenge.
"It wasn't moving a million miles an hour, but it was moving pretty good," Holcomb said. "I didn't think I would miss some of the things I should have seen. There were a couple of reads I didn't make, and I put our team in a bad position a couple times. But our defense played great, we ran the ball great and kind of compensated for me."
Holcomb expects a week of practice will help slow the game down for him this week.
Instead of watching Couch practice, he'll be the one working with the starting offense. That should help shake off rust.
"When you go out there and get a lot of reps, you get a lot of confidence," he said. "I think it will make a lot of difference."
Confidence has never been a problem for Holcomb, who originally was signed as an undrafted free agent by Tampa Bay. He was waived and re-signed four times by the Buccaneers before joining the Colts in 1996.
Whether serving as Peyton Manning's understudy with the Colts or as Couch's backup, Holcomb has always felt he could play. He just needed the chance.
"If I wasn't a confident person I wouldn't be standing here," he said. "All the highs and lows. If you don't believe in yourself, nobody else is going to believe in you."
The Browns hope Holcomb can help snap a seven-game road playoff losing streak that dates to 1969.
Holcomb said he's not looking at his start as a chance for any kind of personal validation.
"It's a great opportunity for the Cleveland Browns," he said. "It's a great opportunity for the organization and for Cleveland fans. This is not a 'my show' kind of thing. Everybody has a part in it. For us to win, we have to play together."
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.