By Nate Ulrich
Akron Beacon Journal (TNS)
At first glance, this doesn’t sound like a good situation: An NFL team loses its starting quarterback in Week 1 to an injury, and the backup steps in with a record of 18-39 as a starter, including 2-17 in the past two seasons.
The numbers are Josh McCown’s, but they couldn’t contrast more with the way the Browns view him.
McCown will start for the Browns (0-1) when they host the Baltimore Ravens (1-0) in the home opener today at FirstEnergy Stadium, and his teammates have supreme confidence in the 14-year NFL veteran as he replaces the injured Robert Griffin III.
“People look at the track record or look at the overall record of [McCown)], but I say that’s BS,” wide receiver Terrelle Pryor said. “Come on. Go watch this guy’s film when he played for Chicago [in 2013], even Tampa [Bay in 2014]. Last year, he lit a lot of teams up.
“He’s a competitor, the ultimate competitor. You can see it in his eyes. You can see it the way he talks in the huddle before he gives us the play that he wants to succeed. I believe there were about two or three periods the ball didn’t touch the ground (in Thursday’s practice). Everything was completed, and he holds us to that standard.”
McCown joined the Browns in February 2015 by signing a three-year, $14 million contract with the previous regime.
He won the starting job over ex-Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel and played through several injuries, including cracked ribs, until a broken collarbone suffered Nov. 30 in a 33-27 loss to Ravens ended his season.
Like Griffin, McCown has a long injury history, so rookie third-round draft pick Cody Kessler must be prepared to be summoned at any moment.
Nevertheless, McCown finished last season with eight starts, a 1-7 record, 12 touchdown passes, four interceptions, a passer rating of 93.3 and a league-best rating of 129.5 on third down.
In his most memorable outing, he had a career-high and regular-season franchise record 457 passing yards Oct. 11 in a 33-30 overtime win over the Ravens.
So why didn’t the Browns make McCown their No. 1 quarterback heading into this season?
The new regime, including coach Hue Jackson, wants to build a foundation for the future and knows McCown, 37, won’t be a part of it because of his age. Jackson thought he could revive the career of Griffin, 26, so the Browns signed him in March to a two-year, $15 million deal and virtually handed him the starting job in August before any preseason games had been played.
The plan went haywire Sept. 11 in a 29-10 season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles when Griffin suffered a fractured coracoid bone in his left shoulder. He will miss at least eight games and could very well be out for the rest of the season.
The Browns have botched quarterback decisions for decades, but they made a wise choice by keeping McCown when they had an opportunity to trade him in early August to the Dallas Cowboys.
“We’re probably in the best situation of any team to be able to handle the backup quarterback coming in and being the starter for a significant length of time,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “You could see in preseason how badly other teams wanted Josh with all the trade rumors.”
With the possibility of being traded hanging over his head, McCown said he focused on giving “all of my energy to this team” and learning Jackson’s offense.
“Josh is a pro’s pro,” Thomas said. “You don’t survive 15, 16 years in the NFL without knowing how to take care of your business, even in the face of adversity.”
The Browns had the youngest team in the NFL on opening weekend, they’re in the midst of a daunting rebuild and coming off a 3-13 season. They weren’t expected to win more than a few games before Griffin was injured, and that remains the case.
Still, there’s an argument they’ll be better off for now with McCown starting. Thomas and right guard John Greco (Boardman) said they expect no “drop-off” as the Browns switch quarterbacks.
Jackson said the transition was “seamless” in recent practices, even though McCown hadn’t received many first-team snaps since Griffin’s arrival six months ago. The coach explained he’ll tailor some aspects of the offense to McCown’s strengths, but there won’t be drastic changes.