Panthers-Browns Preview

Published Nov. 24, 2010 4:07 p.m. EST

Just as the Cleveland Browns thought they had found their quarterback of the future, Colt McCoy went down with a high ankle sprain - the same injury the team's other two passers suffered to hand him the job.

All that adds up to the Carolina Panthers facing the quarterback of their past.

The Browns' Jake Delhomme will likely face the team he once led to the Super Bowl in his first start since Week 1, while the woeful Panthers have their own health issues under center heading into Sunday's meeting in Cleveland.

Cleveland (3-7) had 15 different starting quarterbacks since the franchise returned to the NFL in 1999 before McCoy got his shot in Week 6 at Pittsburgh.


The rookie didn't seem likely to get a chance this season, but injuries to Delhomme and Seneca Wallace forced his debut earlier than expected. McCoy responded impressively, quarterbacking consecutive wins over New Orleans and New England and again playing well in tight losses to the New York Jets and Jacksonville.

But McCoy hurt his left ankle against the Jaguars last Sunday and isn't practicing this week. Coach Eric Mangini said Wednesday he'll likely turn to Delhomme, who went 53-37 as a starter in seven years with Carolina (1-9) and led the team to Super Bowl XXXVIII.

"They know my weaknesses and I know a lot of their strengths," Delhomme said about the Panthers, who cut him in March after an 18-interception 2009. "But it's a different year, (and) I'm around a different offense."

Delhomme threw two interceptions in Cleveland's season-opening loss to Tampa Bay, and his only other action came in Week 5 - when he again threw two picks against Atlanta in relief of Wallace.

The Browns could certainly use a pick-me-up after a pair of disheartening losses. They followed a 26-20 overtime defeat to the Jets on Nov. 14 by losing 24-20 in Jacksonville despite six Jaguars turnovers.

Cleveland fell to 1-5 in games decided by seven points or fewer.

"It's disappointing," linebacker Scott Fujita said. "This team has shown a lot of progress. There are a lot of things to be proud of, but it's just that the margin of error is so small in this league, and I feel like we've learned that more than anybody this season."

Despite another quarterback change and an 0-3 record against Carolina, the Browns are 10-point favorites, and it's not hard to see why.

The Panthers have their own issues at quarterback. Rookie Jimmy Clausen suffered a concussion in a Week 10 loss to Tampa Bay, forcing Carolina to scramble for a replacement last Sunday.

Brian St. Pierre got the call just a week after joining the team, and he had the Panthers within 10 points of Baltimore in the fourth quarter. But St. Pierre threw interceptions on consecutive passes with just under five minutes to go, turning a relatively close game into a 37-13 loss.

"I didn't want to be the reason we lost," said St. Pierre, who said after the loss he was experiencing significant shoulder soreness. "Unfortunately, I was definitely part of it."

Clausen has been cleared to return and practiced Wednesday, likely meaning he'll start against a Browns defense that's 23rd against the pass, allowing 243.4 yards per game.

Cleveland, however, has 10 interceptions and 10 sacks in its past four games, and the inaccurate Clausen has been sacked 12 times in his last four.

Both teams will look to establish the run behind a pair of unheralded backs. While the Browns' Peyton Hillis had his lowest average against Jacksonville - 2.3 yards per carry - since taking over the starting job, Carolina rookie Mike Goodson had his second straight 100-yard game in place of the injured Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.

"Because we had such a long list of featured backs, (Goodson) never really got much of an opportunity to show what kind of runner he was," coach John Fox said. "The guy enjoys playing, which I deeply respect. He's gotten an opportunity that he's taken full advantage of, and I really like to see that."

Goodson could be sharing carries this week, though. Stewart returned to practice Wednesday after missing two games with a concussion.

Cleveland's injury list, meanwhile, doesn't stop with McCoy. Receiver Joshua Cribbs (toes), tight end Ben Watson (ankle), cornerback Eric Wright (knee) and defensive tackle Shaun Rogers (ankle) are all questionable.