Nine months ago, the career backup filled in for Tim Couch and
had one of the finest days in NFL playoff history, passing for 429
yards in Cleveland's 36-33 loss at Pittburgh's Heinz Field.
For now, Holcomb's encore has been postponed.
Holcomb will miss his second straight game with a broken right
fibula and sprained left ankle. Barring an injury to Couch, Holcomb
will be on the sideline Sunday night when the Browns (1-3) face the
Steelers (2-2) in a nationally televised game.
Holcomb got hurt while leading Cleveland to a comeback win on
Sept. 21 at San Francisco. Before Wednesday's practice, he was
holding out hope that he would be well enough to play.
"I feel 1,000 times better," he said. "Every day it feels
significantly better, but we'll have to see."
Less than three hours later, the Browns had seen that Holcomb
still wasn't ready.
Following practice, Cleveland coach Butch Davis said Holcomb was
not yet 100 percent and that Couch, who played well in his season
debut last week but couldn't rally the Browns in a loss to
Cincinnati, would start against the Steelers.
Pittsburgh has won six straight in its heated rivalry with
Davis said there's a chance Holcomb, who was the No. 3
quarterback against the Bengals, could be the backup.
"Our anticipation was that he will be physically and mentally
prepared to be the No. 2," Davis said. "He did more today than he
did a week ago, but he's not ready to do all the things you'd like
to see him do. Tim will start."
So Couch will get a chance to finish what Holcomb started on
In just his fourth career start, Holcomb shredded Pittsburgh's
defense for the third-highest passing total in NFL playoff history
-- a performance that vaulted Holcomb from obscurity and one he
still has a hard time grasping.
"I mean, 429 yards," he said. "You can't expect to do that
every time out."
Only Bernie Kosar (489 yards in 1987) and Dan Fouts (433, 1982)
have thrown for more yards in a playoff game than Holcomb, and
those were both in overtime.
And Holcomb's big day wasn't enough anyway.
The Browns blew a 24-7 lead in the third quarter as Tommy Maddox
rallied the Steelers to 22 unanswered points, giving Pittsburgh its
third win of the season against Cleveland.
Holcomb doesn't remember 429 as much as he does 36-33.
"We lost the game," he said when asked of his lasting memory
of that snowy Sunday. "We played good offensively, but you're not
in it to play good. You're in it to win."
Pittsburgh did, but other than the final score, it's a game
Steelers coach Bill Cowher would probably rather forget.
Cowher spent part of his offseason addressing some of the
defensive holes that Holcomb was able to exploit.
"Kelly came in and hit some big plays against us, especially
early in the game that really set the tone," Cowher said. "He did
a good job of throwing the ball down the field. We had a young
player at the time in (backup cornerback) Hank Poteat and Kelly did
a good job of finding him and searching him out and they made a lot
of big plays."
Couch won his first two career starts against the Steelers, but
has lost the last four. Last season, the Browns fell 16-13 in
overtime at Pittsburgh and then 23-20 at home.
He was on the sideline with a broken fibula last year as Holcomb
ripped the Steelers' secondary apart. But he has no allusions of
trying to match it.
"I just want to win the game," he said. "I don't want to go
out and try to outdo what he did. It's pretty amazing to go out and
throw for more than 400 yards against anybody."