- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 2, 2004

The Cleveland Browns can’t seem to head in the same direction, let alone get on the same page.

Three seasons after rejoining the NFL as an expansion team, the Browns were the 9-7 little wild-card team that could in 2002. But two years later, Cleveland has returned to bottom-feeder status heading into tomorrow’s home game against the Washington Redskins. Only long-established ne’er-do-wells Arizona and Detroit can match Cleveland in having their offense and defense ranked in the NFL’s bottom quarter.

After an opening upset of Baltimore, Cleveland lost in Dallas as new quarterback Jeff Garcia, a three-time Pro Bowl performer for San Francisco, compiled a 0.0 passer rating. Then came last week’s 27-10 loss to the lightly regarded New York Giants, after which Garcia and fourth-year coach Butch Davis couldn’t contain their frustrations.

“We need to find an identity,” said Garcia, whom the Browns signed March9 as the solution to the Tim Couch or Kelly Holcomb quarterback quandary. “We need to find out who we are. This team needs to have a sense of urgency. Our offense isn’t where it needs to be. We need to be more efficient, more consistent.”

Davis, showing a sense of urgency with his future in jeopardy, was just as harsh.

“I’m disappointed in the number of critical things we did,” Davis said. “We gave up big passes, turned the ball over, struggled in early [pass] protections and didn’t get the ball in the hands of guys to make plays.”

This after a game in which Garcia posted a solid 80.0 rating, wideout Dennis Northcutt caught nine passes and running back William Green rushed for 91 yards. But then Davis, who claims to have been caught unaware by the salary cap problems that forced a mini-roster purge after the rise of 2002, is not one of those “look on the bright side” coaches.

“Nothing hurts worse than when you’re trying to build a team … and you have to dismantle a lot of that,” said Davis, whose team slipped to 5-11 last year. “It creates unrest. That was a partial factor last season coupled with the fact that we had 14 players that ended up going on injured reserve. We were totally decimated. We lost four of the five starters on the offensive line. It was battle under siege pretty much all year.”

This season isn’t looking much more promising. Davis said the transformation from the three-receiver, H-back schemes to the conventional two-back set has taken longer than expected. Losing tight end Kellen Winslow, their top draft choice, for the year with a broken leg , and playing without flashy runner Lee Suggs (neck) — who might make his 2004 debut tomorrow against Washington — hasn’t helped. Nor have injuries to offensive tackle Ryan Tucker, defensive linemen Courtney Brown (season) and Gerard Warren and linebacker Ben Taylor (season).

The biggest positives aside from the 10th-rated scoring defense and 13th-rated rushing attack is the schedule. Seven of the Browns’ final 13 games are against sub-.500 teams and just three against 2003 playoff qualifiers.

“We’re trying to form a cohesive unit, and there are growing pains that go with that,” Davis said.

But Garcia, who started three playoff games for the 49ers, doesn’t want to hear such talk.

“I don’t necessarily want to go through growing pains,” said Garcia, who is 34.

That’s the Browns, typically unable to get on the same page.

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