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These Browns for real?


Tim Couch wiped his eyes, started throwing touchdown passes, and Cleveland Browns fans began cheering the quarterback they had reduced to tears.

Are these truly the new Cleveland Browns, poised to make a late-season run for the playoffs, or just another tease? This Sunday's game against the Jaguars at Alltel Stadium will go a long way toward answering that question.

The Browns and Jaguars parted company last December in Cleveland, with players sprinting for the exits as angry Browns fans heaved bottles in the direction of anyone in Jaguars teal or black and white stripes.

It was one of the most embarrassing days in Cleveland sports history. It was a day when Browns President Carmen Policy would make postgame comments that were so ridiculous that he would have to call a press conference the next day to explain those comments, and then he said them again. Policy even said Jacksonville fans would've reacted the same way.

That game was one of two volatile meetings between the Jaguars and Browns last season. In the first meeting, early in the season in Jacksonville, the Browns brought with them from Cleveland a thug mentality that resulted in defensive tackle Gerard Warren blind-siding Mark Brunell, causing Brunell a concussion and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to fine Warren $35,000. And there was more.

But let's focus on this Sunday's game. You would think these two teams will have malice of forethought for this game, but each is in an all-new division and the Browns' only thoughts are on overtaking Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

Instead of focusing on last season's dramatics, Browns fans are using Oct. 6 of this year as a reference point. What happened on Oct. 6? Well, that's when Couch broke down in tears and lashed out at Browns fans, who had cheered him when he became injured.

"It was kind of the game where a lot happened and I kind of got some stuff off my chest. Ever since then, I've been more relaxed and more confident about the way I've played," Couch said.

Head coach Butch Davis believes Couch's outburst helped focus his quarterback's thoughts.

"Maybe it did put a chip on his shoulder and make him a little tougher, emotionally and everything," Davis said.

"He needed to be toughened in a mental area," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians added.

So the new Browns have a "new" quarterback, and the recent surge of first-round running back William Green would seem to have completed the package for a team that appeared dead in the water following its second loss to Pittsburgh this season, on Nov. 3.

The Browns got their biggest confidence boost on Nov. 24 when they scored an upset win in New Orleans. But they bottomed out again this past Sunday when they lost at home to Carolina. So, which Browns team will show up at Alltel?

"These are one-week crusades in the next five weeks," Davis said prior to this past Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.

This week's crusade will be interesting as far as how much the events of last season will play into each team's motivation. Did all of that go away with the AFC Central, or will these two teams put away the present for a few hours to settle some scores from the past?

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