Game 8: Virus, Ravens both bug Couch

Tim Couch had a touch of a virus yesterday and the entire Cleveland Browns' team had a sick look.

Couch, the first pick in the collegiate draft last April, looked like a struggling rookie quarterback as he completed nine of 21 passes for 57 yards before he was yanked in the fourth quarter for the first time in his athletic career in the 41-9 loss to the Ravens.Although neither Couch nor coach Chris Palmer mentioned it, backup quarterback Ty Detmer said that Couch was suffering from a virus and that probably contributed to Palmer's decision.

"He got a little virus or something when he woke up. He's not feeling real good. It wasn't anything to keep you out, but just some little things that happen that people usually don't hear about and at that point in the fourth quarter, give the guy a break, get him ready for next week," Detmer said.

" If he's not 100 percent and we're down, why not put me in and see what happens?"

What happened is that the Browns continued to put on a pathetic showing.

Detmer did lead one touchdown drive against the Ravens' reserves, but the Ravens added two more touchdowns on Rod Woodson's pass interception and a Stoney Case run following a foiled onside kick.

Couch's virus may have contributed to his poor play, but what was puzzling is that the entire team played so poorly. "We did not make any plays on offense, defense or special teams," Palmer said.

Even more surprising is the fact the Cleveland fans, who are supposed to hate the Ravens because they left town after the 1995 season, never got into the game.

The Browns didn't help when they gave up a long touchdown march on the Ravens' first drive, but they gave their fans something to cheer about when they recovered Jermaine Lewis' fumble on a punt return and an onside kick.

The cheering, though, was never out of the ordinary and the crowd quickly became silent as the Ravens took control.

The Browns weren't going to knock the fans.

Palmer said: "The fans were into it. We didn't give them a chance to stay in it."

Although the Big Dawg was in the Dawg Pound with a Raven hanging from his dawg bone, it could be the Browns now have more of an upscale audience with higher ticket prices than they had in the old days.

It also could be that an expansion team with a 1-8 start isn't going to excite the fans even if they were playing Art Modell's team.

But then the bigger problem was that the players didn't seem to be into it any more than the fans.

Palmer said the problem is they were too satisfied after getting their first victory last week.

"We won last week and I think when you have a young team, you have to understand what it takes to continue to win and I do not know if we did that. You win and people are still talking about the Hail Mary five days after the game."

Another problem is that the team didn't practice well last week. Also, Palmer thought some of his young players were tired.

Palmer said Wednesday's practice was poor and Thursday's was below average.

Couch said: "I don't know what it was, but we definitely didn't have one of our best practices this week and I was off with some throws. We were dropping some balls and we didn't do some of the things we normally do and it just showed the way we played tonight."

Couch's last chance to get the Browns back in the game came late in the third period when he overthrew Irv Smith on a fourth-and-three at the Baltimore 37.

"When it left my hand it felt like it was right on target. The play came in pretty late and we only had eight seconds on the line of scrimmage to get it called and I was trying to rush and I may have rushed the throw a little bit," Couch said.

Errict Rhett then ran 52 yards for the touchdown that made it 24-3 and turned it into a rout.

After one more series, Palmer yanked Couch.

Palmer said: "Ty had a good week of practice. I think Tim was struggling and he was not getting much help. It was not just him."

Couch, who said he'd never been pulled in college, said, "I don't want to be on the sidelines. I feel like it's my offense. Not to be out there with them is kind of frustrating, but it's definitely a coach's decision."

Detmer, who was pulled in the opener, has accepted his backup role. "I was glad he didn't make switches [after the opener], although I wanted to play. Don't get me wrong. But for Tim's sake, not just for this year but for the future, it's important for him to know he's the starter and this is his team.

"I think everybody knows that. There's no question in the locker room whose team it is and the starter needs every opportunity to win the game," Detmer said.

It's still Couch's team, but it won't be a winning team until he plays better.

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