In the midst of a dismal season in 2009, the brightest spot for the Cleveland Browns came late in the year when the team rose to the occasion and beat arch rival Pittsburgh in a nationally televised Thursday night game during one of the coldest days in December.
The home victory sparked a four-game winning streak to end the season, illuminating hope for 2010.
Enter 2010. A new team president. A new general manager. A new outlook on things.
Brady Quinn, who quarterbacked the win against the Steelers that night was traded to Denver. Derek Anderson, who swapped starting roles with Quinn was traded to Arizona.
The Browns entered this season with three new quarterbacks. Two of them, veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, are injured. That leaves rookie Colt McCoy, the Browns 2010 first-round draft choice whom the Browns management said would not see the field this season.
To top it off, McCoy will not only see the field a year earlier than expected, but it’s also Steelers week—only this time the Browns travel to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
The Browns need not worry about McCoy’s readiness. From all accounts, he’s prepared for every game this year as if he were the starter. He knows the playbook and he’s looked sharp in practices.
In fact, this could be the game where a hero is born. That’s not to say McCoy won’t likely struggle against one of the best defenses in the NFL. And he’s sure to take a big hit or two.
But, McCoy is a manager. A gamer. A smart kid who does not make big mistakes. At least that was his track record in college when he started every game for the University of Texas from his freshman year through the National Championship game of his senior season.
This is a bigger stage for McCoy. But, he won’t be the only quarterback facing scrutiny on Sunday. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is making his first start this season after serving a four-game suspension for off-the-field misconduct. Roethlisberger will likely have as many nerves about his return as the young McCoy.
If the Browns use the tactic that allowed them to win last year in Cleveland, we’ll see Josh Cribbs in the Wildcat formation several times so that the Steelers cannot key solely on the rookie quarterback.
In fact, how Cribbs performs could be a bigger determining factor in the outcome than how McCoy performs.
Regardless, Las Vegas oddsmakers are not buying into the rookie-turned-hero story. At the beginning of the week, the Browns were a 12.5-point underdog. Now that point spread has crept up to 14.5.
Other NFL rookie quarterbacks have stepped up into a starting role with mixed results this season. Sam Bradford has started all five games for the St. Louis Rams. Jimmy Clausen has started the last three games for Carolina. And, Max Hall started his first game for Arizona just last week.
So, strap on the helmet Colt McCoy.
This could be the beginning of something special.