Couch is in, at least another week

CLEVELAND -- At some point this season, Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis may have to decide again between Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb as his starting quarterback, a call he was first forced to make in training camp.

But that point won't arrive this week as, by equal parts default and deed, Couch will retain the top spot on the depth chart for at least one more contest, when the Browns host the winless San Diego Chargers on Sunday afternoon.

Holcomb, who opened the campaign as the starter, was sufficiently recovered last week to be list as the primary backup in the team's victory over the Oakland Raiders, but remains hobbled by a fractured right fibula sustained on Sept. 21. There is still some pain in the leg and, while Holcomb might be able to play if required, the fibula probably will not be fully healed for about two more weeks.

The first overall choice in the 1999 draft, and a starter each of his first four seasons unless sidelined by injury, Couch has led the team to a 2-1 record in his three starts. Holcomb was 1-2 in the first three games of the season.

Couch has played efficiently, if not always spectacularly, in this stint as the starter, and has managed games well. The fifth-year veteran has completed 59 of 87 attempts for 615 yards, with four touchdown passes and two interceptions, and his passer rating of 93.8 is currently third-best in the AFC.

The former Kentucky star completed 16 of 26 for 127 yards against the Raiders last week but called a smart game as the club continued to emphasize a strong inside rushing attack featuring tailback William Green, who has run for over 100 yards the last two outings. Even Couch acknowledged that he is more likely now to manage a game, to use all of the supporting cast around him, than to attempt to win a contest on his own.

"I usually would try to take the game over, and do something (myself), and that's when I would get in trouble in the past," Couch said.

Two weeks ago, Davis allowed that Holcomb would return to the starting job when he is 100 percent healthy, but the lingering pain in the quarterback's leg has provided him with a convenient excuse for maintaining the status quo. And with Couch playing well and the Browns just one-half game out of the lead in the diluted AFC North, the coach might not be inclined to rock the boat now that it is righted.

"If (Holcomb) was okay today, we'd have something to talk about, but he is not okay yet," Davis said.

In his three starts, Holcomb registered a 63.4 efficiency rating, completing 62 of 104 passes for 551 yards, with three touchdown passes and five interceptions.