Foxborough, Mass. - To put it lightly, there is turmoil in Cleveland. That much is certain. But when the Patriots face the Cleveland Browns Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, what isn't certain is how the team will respond. It leaves the Patriots dealing with a great unknown.
Cleveland head coach Butch Davis officially resigned Monday, ending his four-year tenure and weeks of speculation that he would be fired. Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie was handed the "interim head coach" tag for the remainder of the season. On his second day on the job, Robiskie learned his current starting quarterback Kelly Holcomb -who was already replacing injured starter Jeff Garcia - has cracked ribs as a result of the pounding he took in last week's wacky 58-48 loss to Cincinnati.
Aside from the turmoil, the Browns are 3-8 this season. On Sunday they'll be facing the 10-1 Patriots.
"Here we go again," Robiskie said in a conference call Wednesday. "The only thing you can do is look [your team] in the eyes and tell them straight, tell them exactly who you are and where you're coming from and what you're trying to get done. Be honest with them. Try and see if you can get them to play."
"We picked a hell of a week for this thing to come up didn't we?" he added. " The Patriots are one of those teams where you need everything in the world to go perfect to be close with them."
The Patriots will be dealing with several unknowns against the Browns. Aside from who will start at quarterback, no one can predict how many personnel changes will take place, or how the team will respond from a mid-season coaching change. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, for one, isn't about to let his team take the Browns lightly.
"The move yesterday was something that personally that caught me a little bit by surprise," Belichick said. "Regardless, I think it's a situation that really makes the Browns extremely dangerous. From the limited experience I've had in a situation like that, it can really create an aura suddenly of freedom, and sometimes confidence, [and] an ability to shake things up a little bit without any reservations. You just don't really know what they're going to come out with."
Belichick went on to draw an analogy between the Browns and the 1976 Detroit Lions, where he was the assistant special teams coach that season. The Lions got off to a disappointing 1-3 start with three division losses, and head coach Rick Forzano resigned. Tommy Hudspeth took over, leading the Lions to a 30-10 win over a loaded 3-1 Patriots team that went on to lose in the AFC playoffs to eventual Super Bowl champion Oakland.
"I've seen it before," Belichick said. "Look, I don't know what's going on in Cleveland. I really don't know. And I'm not going to sit here and try to tell you what is or isn't going to happen. But I've definitely seen that before. I've seen it firsthand. We need to be ready for that, and we're going to do everything we can to be ready for it."
Belichick reiterated the coaching staff will need to cover all of its proverbial bases in preparation this week - from the number of different players who will play to the possibility of scheme changes, such as a "wide-open attack." Wednesday, he already had many of his players saying the same.
"I don't think anyone in here really knows what to expect," quarterback Tom Brady said. "I know I think we expect that we are going to get their best game. Coach [Belichick] told us today, 'Don't make any predictions on how you think this game is going to play out'. [We need to] just be prepared to handle whatever we need to handle, worry about ourselves and try to go out this week and get better in practice. We could get their best effort and that is really what this team is expecting."
Robiskie, who coached Washington to a 1-2 record as an interim coach during the 2000 season when Norv Turner was fired, said the Browns held a productive team meeting and a "spirited" practice Wednesday. He expects the Browns to respond positively to the changes that have taken place this week.
"If there were 60 guys in the meeting this morning, I know there's 12 of us that are going to battle and who are going to give it our all," he said. "We're going out Sunday to try to win. There are 12 of us. There are 12 coaches, and that's what we're going to try to do. All I say to the next 48 guys is, "If you want to come, c'mon. If you don't want to come, just let me know.' I think the guys are going to play."
Aside from preparing his team to face the 10-1 Patriots, Robiskie was facing concerns over his starting quarterback on his first day on the job. Robisnski found out from his medical staff Wednesday morning that Holcomb, who replaced incumbent starter Garcia in Sunday's 58-48 loss to Cincinnati, suffered three hairline fractures in his ribs. Holcomb, who completed 30-of-39 passes for 413 yards and five touchdowns in the loss, is listed as questionable on the injury report but hasn't been completely ruled out.
"By the time Sunday rolls around they think he might be able to play," Robiskie said. "But they seem to believe that this is a [situation] to wait and see what happens on Saturday or Sunday. He might be ready to go."
If Holcomb is unable to play, the Browns will likely turn to rookie fourth round draft pick Luke McCown, who has attempted one pass this season. Garcia, who is also listed as questionable, is still recovering from damaged ligaments in his throwing shoulder he injured Nov. 21 against the New York Jets.
"I think we have to be ready for all three guys, and that adds to the mountain of preparation that you have during the week," Belichick said. "I think all three of those quarterbacks are good. I don't think there is any question when Kelly [Holcomb] has played he has shown that he can throw the ball. He can throw it accurately, he makes good decisions, he is an excellent passer and I think those are definitely his strengths."
Light Comes Out Fine
Patriots left tackle Matt Light spoke for the first time Wednesday regarding a left ankle injury that forced him to leave Sunday's win over Baltimore. Light, who has started 52 consecutive games at left tackle, said he hopes to play Sunday against Cleveland. He practiced Wednesday and was not listed on the Patriots official injury report.
"I'm alright," Light said. I'm good. I don't think anything happened; I think it was just [in] conditions like that I just twisted it myself. I don't think anyone touched me. It was a weird sensation. I've never had a feeling that that. I thought I had done something pretty bad. I'm just glad that once I got up and put some weight on it and felt that everything was good, and the [doctors] said everything was fine, that was probably the best treatment I could possibly get."
The Patriots re-signed cornerback Omare Lowe to the practice squad Wednesday. Lowe, originally signed to the active roster last week, was released Monday when the team re-signed wide receiver Kevin Kasper. ... Patriots rookie tight end Benjamin Watson, on the injured reserve list and rehabbing from a knee injury, made an appearance in the locker room Wednesday. ... Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour on the Browns: "I just think we have to understand what we're going against this week. Their players are going to be ready to go, and rightfully so. Teams seem to rally around [changes] and pull together and play stronger." ... Robiskie said Cleveland rookie tight end Kellen Winslow, who started the first two games of the season before he was placed on injured reserve Sept. 19 with a broken fibula, was a key loss for the Browns. "We lose him against Dallas, that was a tremendous blow for us. We saw in our heart that [Winslow] was our best offensive football player."