Holcomb not ready, so Browns turn to Couch again

Updated: October 2, 2003, 10:53 AM ET

BEREA, Ohio -- Kelly Holcomb won't get the chance to return to the site of his greatest triumph as an NFL quarterback. Well, his greatest near triumph.

Holcomb, who passed for 429 yards in a playoff loss at Pittsburgh in January, will not start Sunday night against the Steelers because of a broken leg.

So, for the second straight week, Tim Couch will replace Holcomb, who also has a sprained left ankle and has improved but not enough for the Browns (1-3) to risk putting him out there against the Steelers (2-2).

Holcomb thought he might be able to play despite his broken right fibula, which he injured while leading the Browns to a comeback win two weeks ago in San Francisco.

After seeing him practice Wednesday, Browns coach Butch Davis feels otherwise.

"Our expectations are that as the week winds down he'll get close enough to be physically prepared and mentally prepared enough to have a chance to be the No. 2 quarterback," Davis said.

Holcomb had hoped for another shot at the Steelers, who have beaten the Browns six straight times, most recently a 36-33 win in the playoffs when Pittsburgh rallied from a 24-7 deficit in the second half to wreck Holcomb's huge performance.

"That was a bitter pill to swallow," Holcomb said.

So Couch will get a chance to finish what Holcomb started on Jan. 4.

In just his fourth career start, Holcomb shredded Pittsburgh's defense for the third-highest passing total in NFL playoff history -- a game 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 14-0 and 24-7 leads as quarterback Tommy Maddox rallied the Steelers to 22 unanswered points, giving Pittsburgh its third win of the season over 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."

Couch, who threw for 280 yards in a 21-14 loss to Cincinnati last week, won his first two career starts against the Steelers, but has dropped the last four.

Last season, the Browns fell 16-13 in overtime at Pittsburgh and then 23-20 at home.

Couch 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."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index