September 23, 2002 at 3:39 PM EST - Updated July 1 at 8:20 AM
By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tim Couch needed about three quarters to get a feel for the game again. It took him about nine minutes to dispose of the Tennessee Titans.
Couch, who sat out the first two games because of a sore elbow, threw two of his three touchdown passes in the final 2:35 of regulation in leading the Cleveland Browns to a 31-28 overtime victory over the Titans.
Couch set up Phil Dawson's 33-yard field goal in the extra period as the Browns (2-1) rallied from a 14-point deficit.
"I came out obviously a little rusty in the first quarter, first half for that matter," Couch said. "Once I settled down and kind of got a feel for the game again and just calmed down basically inside ... I thought we got it together offensively and played pretty well."
Couch called this his biggest moment yet in the NFL. He was 36-of-50 for 326 yards passing, leading the Browns from a 28-14 deficit with 5:06 remaining with no timeouts left.
Couch thinks he quieted critics who thought coach Butch Davis should have stuck with backup Kelly Holcomb. Holcomb came in as the NFL's second-rated passer.
"There was a lot of talk this week whether I should even be the quarterback of this team," Couch said. "I've said all along I don't care what a lot of people on the outside think, but I know these guys in this locker room believe in me and I believe in myself."
Said Davis: "I think he did an excellent job."
The Titans (1-2) couldn't get Couch off the field, and not even sacking him twice on the final possession of regulation stopped him from tying the game with an 8-yard TD toss to Dennis Northcutt with 12 seconds left.
"Even when I was right in his face, he was able to make a touchdown throw," Titans safety Lance Schulters said. "For it being the first game for him, he looked like he was in real stride."
The Browns beat their former AFC Central rivals for a second straight time after losing their first six following their resurrection as a franchise. Thanks to Couch, they did it by scoring 17 unanswered points for victory just like the last time these teams played.
Tennessee blew a second-half lead for the second straight week.
The Titans won the time of possession on offense but little else as they managed just 187 yards total offense compared with 403 for Cleveland. They went three-and-out five times with their longest scoring drive just 43 yards.
Misplays by the Browns gave Tennessee the lead. Andre Dyson had a 16-yard interception return of Couch's only mistake, and two fumbles became TD tosses by Steve McNair to John Simon and Kevin Dyson, the last putting them up 28-14.
"We let it slip," Titans defensive tackle John Thornton said.
Cleveland started the comeback when Northcutt returned a punt 74 yards for a TD at the end of the third quarter, making it 21-14. He fumbled a fair catch two punts later but recovered Dawson's onside kick at the Tennessee 42 with 2:31 left in regulation to set up the tying TD. Dawson kicked the ball left and away from the Titans, toward the only player on that side of the field.
"We haven't ever had a perfect ball and catch like that, even in all the times in practice," Northcutt said. "When it counts the most, we made it happen."
Couch led the Browns on drives of 80 and 42 yards in the final 5 minutes of regulation for touchdowns. When Cleveland won the toss, he took the team 65 yards, setting up Dawson's game-winner with 10:47 left in overtime.
Notes: Andre and Kevin Dyson became the first brothers to score in the same game for the first time since Nov. 5, 2000. Andre had a 16-yard interception return, while Kevin caught a 7-yard TD toss for the Titans. In 2000, Terry Jackson scored for San Francisco and Willie Jackson scored for New Orleans. ... Dawson had connected on 21 consecutive field goals, the second-longest streak in club history. That ended with 4:36 left in the second quarter when he was wide right on a 52-yarder. Davis said his kicker should be mad at him for making him attempt that kick. ... McNair now has thrown a TD pass in 16 consecutive games, the franchise's third-longest streak. Warren Moon had streaks of 21 straight in 1990-91 and 17 straight in 1992-93.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)