As the dawn of a new NFL season sheds its light upon us, a familiar quandary (one which endlessly has Cleveland Browns brass balking at naming another starting quarterback) has risen like the sun awaiting complete blockage from the earth’s moon. A total eclipse from the start.
With four quarterbacks in training camp this summer (Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan), the Browns have once again jump-started one of August’s greatest thrill rides in Cleveland, Ohio. The Quarterback Carousel of Berea (cue the carnival music)!
Top Five Single Game Performances by a Cleveland Browns Quarterback Since 1999
This season’s beginning to look as if we’ll again witness the merry-go-round and around as the rookie, DeShone Kizer, is already getting plenty of positive run after just one pre-season performance. Let’s not be quick to mention that he played the entire second half of last week’s game against the New Orleans Saints’ third string defense, and passed for 184 yards on 11 of 18 attempts. He also tossed the game winning touchdown to an open Jordan Payton, a 45 yarder, when faced with a 4th and 2 situation.
Let’s anoint him the week one starter!
Maybe not quite yet.
As it’s been well documented, the Browns have started a mindboggling 26 different arms under center since their return in 1999. From Ty Detmer to Cody Kessler, the number is staggering. And it appears number 27 will soon be taking meaningful September snaps in the form of either Osweiler or Kizer.
Yet, it’s from this gratuitous cadre of signal-callers that we find a fun little list to dissect. I ask you, who might possess the top five single game performances by a Cleveland Browns quarterback since 1999?
With some stat searching, I found five peculiarly spectacular games from Browns seasons’ past, in which their chief pigskin chucker found himself posing as a gridiron great! If only for one game, win or lose. Of the top five games there were two victories, 16 touchdowns and three interceptions. Each field general compiled a QB rating of 107.6 or greater, and one name may surprise you.
Step right up! And without further ado, I bring you the Top Five Single Game Performances by a Cleveland Browns Quarterback Since 1999! That’s as big a mouthful as reading off the entire list of 26 starters who have donned the brown and orange in that same time span.
#5 Kelly Holcomb – Jan. 5, 2003
How is it possible that #5 on the list took place during a playoff game? What’s that? Playoffs?! Are you kidding me?!
That’s exactly where we find one Kelly Holcomb, he of the Butch Davis era Browns who seized the opportunity of a battered Tim Couch and took the reins for one spectacular game in January versus the detested Pittsburgh Steelers.
A round one game in which the Browns held a 33-21 lead with 10:17 left on the clock. As time ran down to :54 seconds Butch’s boys famously backpedaled into their own version of a prevent defense, which ultimately prevented Cleveland from tasting postseason victory as Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala (that’s fun to say) plunged into the end zone from three yards out. Thus, enabling the Browns to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Unheralded was the attempt by Holcomb to bring Cleveland back, firing the football 43 times (completing 26) for a total of 429 yards and three touchdowns against one interception. Pittsburgh came out on top though, 36-33.
However, this will not be the only time we catch Mr. Holcomb and his Hometown BBQ Sauce on the list (kudos to those who remember his fantastic attempt at hawking meat condiments).
#4 Jason Campbell – Dec. 8, 2013
Surprised?! Raise your hand if you remember Jason Campbell having been a starting quarterback for the Browns! Okay, now raise your hand if you expected Campbell to throw for 391 yards and three touchdowns versus Tom Brady and the New England Patriots! Did I get ya’?
A little over two weeks prior to Christmas, Cleveland found itself amid a seven-game losing streak. A run that culminated in a 4-12 final record and the firing of Rob Chudzinski after just one season as head coach.
In another effort to come up with excruciating ways to lose in the last minute, the Browns blew their 26-14 lead on New England with just 2:43 to play. After Brady found Julian Edelman to bring the score to within six points, the Pats attempted an onside kick. The ball was recovered by New England and, following a 29 yard pass interference call on Leon McFadden, Brady took the ball from the one yard line and delivered to Danny Amendola for the go-ahead score.
Campbell damn near did it, though! With little time left and completing three of four passes to the New England 40 yard line, he left it on the field for a 58 yard field goal attempt by Billy Cundiff with one tick left on the clock. Nope, didn’t make it. New England would go on to win by a final tally of 27-26.
#3 Kelly Holcomb – Nov. 16, 2003
Here he is again, The Baron of Barbeque himself! I must be honest with you, this game is the one that completely slipped my mind and I had a difficult time recalling many details from it. However, of the five instances recalled on this list, Kelly Holcomb’s QB rating was at its highest in this one, 141.9.
Cleveland jumped on the Arizona Cardinals early in the first quarter with a Phil Dawson field goal, followed by a touchdown strike from Holcomb to Andre’ Davis. They didn’t let up from there either. Dawson with another three-pointer and Holcomb finding Dennis Northcutt gave the Browns a 20-3 lead at halftime.
From there on out Holcomb’s Heroes kept pressing the pedal down on the ‘Cards as the Browns cruised to a 44-6 victory. Pop Gun Kelly (I don’t think I can call him Machine Gun, because of trademarks and whatnot) finished the day completing 29 of 35 attempts for three scores and no picks.
Now, if you said that was Kelly’s finest day as a Cleveland Brown, I’d probably agree with you. But, this list is a top-five compilation and we have two more names to go. Drumroll, please…
#2 Kelly Holcomb – Nov. 28, 2004
If you can remember the 2004 Cleveland Browns season, then you might recall it being the year of the Jeff Garcia experiment. Two years removed from a 32 touchdown season and a quarterback rating of 94.8, Garcia joined the Browns as, more or less, a has been.
The level of Garcia’s play had basically hit rock bottom following back-to-back losses to the Steelers and the New York Jets, prompting Butch Davis to bench the former Pro-Bowler in favor of his preferred shoot from the hip gunslinger, Kelly Holcomb. Bang! Bang!
The move would only prove to signal the end of the Butch Davis regime. Following the 58-48 shootout loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Davis would relieve himself of head coaching duties in Cleveland and the squad would then be left to Terry Robiskie from there on out.
The Browns squandered yet another lead late in the game, after having jumped ahead earlier in the fourth quarter on a touchdown pass from Holcomb to Steve Heiden and giving Cleveland a 48-44 cushion.
Although Holcomb would go on to pass for 413 yards and five touchdowns that day, he also tossed up two interceptions. The second of which was taken 31 yards to the house by Deltha O’Neal, solidifying Cincy’s win and driving the final nail into Butch Davis’ coffin. It was also the final year with Holcomb as a Brown as he would head to Buffalo following the 2004 season.
#1 Josh McCown – Oct. 11, 2015
It’s only been two years since he accomplished the feat, but the well-traveled Josh McCown not only broke the standard in 2015, he holds the Cleveland Browns single game passing yards record. This is the same Josh McCown who was a second year quarterback in Arizona when he witnessed Holcomb’s pasting of the ‘Cards with his 392 yard game (see #3).
In a back and forth match that saw Cleveland and the Ravens square off on a Sunday afternoon in Baltimore, McCown marched the Browns to a 33-30 overtime victory. It was an accomplishment that almost didn’t happen, as McCown opened the season by suffering a concussion against the Jets in week one.
Following a brief audition for Johnny Manziel, Josh returned to pile up 341 yards against the Oakland Raiders and 356 yards against the San Diego Chargers. So, the potential certainly existed for McCown to light up the 1-3 Ravens. And he did.
Leading Cleveland back from a 21-9 deficit in the third quarter, McCown used his legs rather than his arm to shorten the score, crossing the stripe to make it 21-16. Josh later found Gary Barnidge and Isaiah Crowell through the air, each with a fourth quarter score. Baltimore would tie the game on a Justin Tucker field goal with :25 seconds remaining in regulation, then it was off to overtime.
Journeyman Josh guided the Browns from their own 35 yard line down to the Baltimore 15, where Travis Coons booted the game winning 32 yard field goal. After the final whistle blew, McCown was anointed as the NEW Cleveland Browns single game passing leader with 457 yards on 36 of 51 passing and a 111.3 QB rating.
Was this the list you imagined? Is there room for another Browns quarterback, maybe one who hasn’t taken a snap in an orange helmet yet? Perhaps one of the three Kelly Holcomb games could be knocked from the list by Brock Osweiler or DeShone Kizer? As the season draws near, another quarterback waits to take his place on the long list of names. Maybe this is the year the list stops here.