Browns’ McCoy proves he has ‘it’ in debut

The Cleveland Browns never planned it this way.

They wanted to have rookie quarterback Colt McCoy sit, watch and
learn from veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace for a season
before asking him to win games for them. Much less a road game
against a superior defense and one of the NFL’s best teams.

Against that backdrop, McCoy impressed the Browns – and the
Steelers – while making his NFL debut Sunday in a 28-10 loss to
Pittsburgh.

”For his first start, he played unbelievable,” Cleveland
linebacker Matt Roth said. ”I think he’s only going to get better.
You saw him move the ball; he was fearless. That’s what you
want.”

McCoy, starting only because Delhomme and Wallace have high
ankle sprains, completed 23 of 33 passes for 281 yards, a touchdown
and two interceptions – although one came late in a desperation
situation.

Beyond the numbers, though, those in the Browns locker room
seemed more taken with the third-round draft pick’s poise,
leadership and intangibles.

”He’s got that ‘it,”’ guard Eric Steinbach said. ”If he’s our
guy from here on out, we can build off what we started.”

For seasons, the Browns have looked for a quarterback they could
win with. Maybe McCoy can be that player.

McCoy earned his team’s confidence throughout a strong week of
practice. A four-year starter who threw for more than 13,000 yards
at Texas, McCoy embraced the leadership role that comes along with
playing his position – even if he had never taken a meaningful NFL
snap.

McCoy even spoke before his teammates Saturday night, telling
them, ”The hay’s in the barn.”

”Some of the city folk, I had to (translate for them),” McCoy
joked about the expression, meaning they had put the requisite work
in. ”I go into each game expecting to win, expecting to play good.
That’s why I’m here. That’s why they drafted me.”

McCoy, who also rushed four times for 22 yards, guided Cleveland
to at least one first down during all but one of its 10 drives.

”He showed some innate things that are quarterback things,”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. ”I am sure they are excited about
him. They should be. It wasn’t too big for him.”

Browns coach Eric Mangini wouldn’t commit to starting McCoy at
New Orleans on Sunday, saying he is uncertain about the status of
Delhomme and Wallace.

PLAYING SHORT-HANDED: First-half head injuries to Joshua Cribbs
and Mohamed Massaquoi – both coming off hits from James Harrison –
left the Browns with only two healthy wide receivers, Brian
Robiskie and Chansi Stuckey, for the final two-plus quarters.

”Obviously losing Cribbs is big, because we do a lot of
packages with him – the wildcat – and it took a big phase of our
offense,” tight end Evan Moore said. ”Losing Mo, he’s a threat as
well.”

The Browns dressed three tight ends, so Moore played some at
wide receiver. Benjamin Watson led the team with six catches for 88
yards and its only touchdown.

Of McCoy’s 23 completions, only six went to wide receivers, four
to Stuckey and two to Robiskie.

The loss of Cribbs meant Cleveland had to use its backup punt
returner, Stuckey.

Stuckey, who said he had previously returned punts only in
practice and during the preseason, had two fair catches, did not
field an end-of-half punt and muffed his only official return. That
came deep in Browns territory with 7:50 play, leading to a Steelers
touchdown that made it 21-3 and effectively ended the game.

”I definitely have a newfound respect for Josh and what he
does,” Stuckey said. ”The punter (Daniel Sepulveda) did a great
job and got a lot of movement on the ball, but it’s still my job to
catch the ball and it’s something I’ve got to go work on this
week.”

WARD MOVES UP LISTS: Hines Ward’s 8-yard touchdown reception in
the third quarter was the 81st touchdown of his career, moving him
into second place on Pittsburgh’s career list. The receiver had
been tied with Jerome Bettis.

Franco Harris owns the record with 100 touchdowns.

Ward also caught at least one pass for the 183rd consecutive
games, tying Hall of Famer Art Monk for fourth place on the NFL’s
list.

”That’s awesome,” Ward said. ”I grew up watching Art Monk
during the Super Bowl days. It’s a good feeling, especially when
you win on top of that.”

STEELERS HIT THE ROAD: The Steelers play their next three games
away from Heinz Field, the first time they have played three
consecutive regular-season road games since 1994.

They did play three in a row on the road during the 2005 season
playoffs, before they beat Seattle in the Super Bowl in
Detroit.

Included in this stretch are two prime-time games, a Sunday
night game at New Orleans on Oct. 31 and a Monday nighter at
Cincinnati on Nov. 8. The road trip starts Sunday at Miami, where
the Steelers ended the regular season in January.

”Three straight on the road, it’s going to be tough,”
linebacker James Farrior said. ”There is a tough challenge ahead
of us. We just have to stay focused, take it one game at a time.
Miami is next week. That’s all we have to focus on.”