A CAREER AFTERNOON
These are desperate times for the Browns, who are missing three of their best players—quarterback Bernie Kosar (broken ankle), defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry (arthroscopic knee surgery) and holdout wide receiver Webster Slaughter (inflated head). Their quarterback Sunday against the blitzing Raiders in Los Angeles was 1991 Plan B pickup Todd Philcox, who couldn't beat out Erik Wilhelm for a backup job in Cincinnati.
Cleveland ran 46 fewer plays than L.A., made only seven first downs and was out-gained 464 yards to 231. Why then was normally effervescent Brown owner Art Modell absolutely gushing afterward?
Eric Metcalf, that's why. Metcalf beat the Raiders single-handedly, scoring all four Cleveland touchdowns in a 28-16 win on pass receptions of four, 69 and 63 yards, and a run of six yards. "This," Modell said, just before hugging Metcalf and whispering sweet nothings into his ear in the Brown locker room, "is as good a game as any I've seen from a player on the Browns in many, many years, including the Leroy Kelly and Jim Brown days."
That Metcalf would have such a game is the surprise of this young NFL season, given how disappointing his four-year career had been until Sunday. Cleveland traded four draft picks so it could move up seven spots in the first round of the 1989 draft and take Metcalf, whom they envisioned as the sort of game-breaking back that James Brooks was for AFC Central rival Cincinnati. But at 5'10", 185 pounds, Metcalf was leaner and less powerful than Brooks, and he proved to be more laid back, too.
After the '89 season Brown coaches at the Pro Bowl asked for Brooks's advice on what to do with Metcalf. "Tell him to start working out," Brooks said. "He's got to get stronger." But Metcalf didn't train as hard as Cleveland wanted him to. He became even less effective and then missed half of last season with a shoulder injury. In the '90 and '91 seasons combined, he scored only two TDs from scrimmage, and his longest gain was a 45-yard catch.
The Browns finally satisfied their need for a versatile back like Brooks by signing Brooks himself on Plan B last March. On Sunday they played Brooks at slotback and occasionally split him wide. That's sound strategy against the Raiders, whose safeties are such aggressive run-supporters that they sometimes get caught too close to the line. "Anytime you do that to us," says Metcalf, who often went in motion out of a slot position, "we go into play-action, and we're down the field."
STATS OF THE WEEK
?None of the 44 players that the Cowboys drafted in 1984, '85 and '86 are currently employed by Dallas.
?Raider quarterback Jay Schroeder was benched last week for the seventh time in his nine-year NFL career.