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Sunday, August 17
Updated: August 18, 12:06 PM ET
It's Holcomb at the helm

Associated Press

BEREA, Ohio (AP) -- Butch Davis trusted his gut. Tim Couch felt like he got punched there.

Surprise. Kelly Holcomb is the new starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

Davis ended eight months of drama Sunday by picking Holcomb as his starter over Couch, the player that the Browns coach once said would lead his team to the Super Bowl.

"It was a gut feeling," Davis said. "My own personal gut feeling after talking to coaches, looking at them and watching practice for 2½ years. I believe Kelly Holcomb has earned the opportunity."

Holcomb, a 30-year-old career backup, had been locked in a heated competition since training camp opened with Couch, a four-year starter who will make $6.2 million standing on the sideline this season.

Couch was the first player drafted by the Browns when they returned as an expansion team in 1999. Late owner Al Lerner called him a "franchise cornerstone."

But those days are long gone, and now that he has been benched, the 26-year-old Couch faces an uncertain future in Cleveland.

"It's a tough day for me," Couch said.

And one of the best of Holcomb's career.

Holcomb said he went "numb" after Davis told him that he had won the job. The years of studying playbooks and preparing to play only to watch finally paid off.

"I always believed deep down I could," Holcomb said. "I know people looked at me and thought I was crazy. This kid coming from Middle Tennessee State who didn't get drafted. But I always knew in my heart that given the opportunity, I could show I could play. I always kept that dream."

Davis decided to open the quarterback competition after Holcomb, filling in for an injured Couch, passed for 429 yards in a playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Davis promised he wouldn't allow his QB's contract, past performances or draft positions affect his decision, and the coach kept his word.

Holcomb, who will make $875,000 this season, outplayed Couch in the Browns' two exhibition games, completing 14 of 21 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns.

When he was in, he moved Cleveland's offense much more efficiently than Couch.

If Davis was leaning toward Holcomb, the one-time backup to Peyton Manning in Indianapolis may have sealed his fate with a dazzling performance in the first half of Friday night's game against Green Bay.

Holcomb went 7-of-10 for 166 yards with two TD passes. Not only did he outplay Couch, he outshined Packers star Brett Favre, too.

Holcomb, though, may have won the starting job back on Jan. 5 with his eye-opening performance against the Steelers. He picked apart Pittsburgh's secondary for the third highest passing total in NFL postseason history.

"Nobody had really heard of me," Holcomb said. "But it wasn't the first time I knew I could play the game."

Couch said he was surprised by Davis' decision. He had done everything in his power to hold onto his position, arriving at training camp in the best shape of his career.

But he couldn't do enough to persuade Davis he deserved to be the Browns' No. 1 quarterback.

"I don't feel I did anything to lose it," Couch said. "I wasn't playing horrible and throwing the ball all over the place. It's coach's decision and he evaluated us, and he did what he said he had to do. Coach has his right to make any choice he wants."

Back in 1999, when he was drafted No. 1 and given a seven-year $50 million contract by the Browns, it didn't seem possible that Couch would become a backup.

"I never envisioned this day," he said. "But when you've had as many injuries as I've had, and you miss games and you give the backup quarterback a chance to come in and play, and he plays well, you know chances are there for this to happen. And Kelly has taken advantage of those opportunities.

"That's kind of what I'm looking to do now."

With their roles reversed, Holcomb, maybe more than any player in the league, could sympathize with Couch.

Stuck behind Manning, he went four seasons in Indianapolis without throwing one pass in a regular-season game. He doubted himself, but never stopped working.

"It's something that you want to do your whole life, being a starting quarterback in the NFL," Holcomb said. "It's a humbling experience. It shows that working hard and perseverance because there were times where I said, the hill is too big to climb and I want no part of this.

"But I never quit. It does make it worthwhile."

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