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SURVIVAL TEST
Peter King
October 22, 1990
Assaulted and battered by enemy pass rushers, Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar still gets up throwing
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October 22, 1990

Survival Test

Assaulted and battered by enemy pass rushers, Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar still gets up throwing

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That game turned out to be a Rocky Mountain high for Kosar and Cleveland (2-4). In a 25-20 loss to the Saints on Sunday, Kosar was sacked twice and flattened six times. If you're counting, that's 16 sacks and 31 knockdowns in six games. Until Kosar strained ligaments in his right elbow in the '88 opener, he had thrown at least one touchdown pass in 21 straight games. He has failed to throw one in 14 of the 33 games he has played since.

It's hard to believe that Kosar, a home state boy—he grew up in Boardman, 90 miles from Cleveland—who took the Browns to the playoffs in each of his first five years in the NFL, would hear chants of "Pagel! Pagel! Pagel!" from the home crowd three games into his sixth season. But he did, during Cleveland's 24-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

Mechanically, Kosar is the same quarterback as ever. A comparison of the films of the '87 AFC title game against the Broncos with those from the Monday night game shows that he threw three-quarters and sidearm consistently, with good velocity in each. He was on the run a little more in the Monday night game, but on four or five passes, Kosar put the ball in a Cleveland player's stomach with a Bronco all over the receiver. He hasn't lost his flair for clutch completions.

"Sometimes I worry about his lack of mobility," Modell says. "But Johnny Unitas wasn't a scrambler. Dan Marino doesn't move around. Look at what Bernie does well. He diagnoses defenses and sees downfield better than anyone we've had since I've been here."

Right—when he has the chance. But how often is Kosar going to have a clear pocket and an opportunity to throw under the conditions that existed against Denver, which hardly has a fearsome pass rush? "They're basic," Pittsburgh Steeler cornerback Rod Woodson says of the Browns on offense. "He [Kosar] is not mobile at all. Now, when you look at them on your schedule, you're putting a W down before you play, because you think their offense isn't that mobile either."

"I don't think Bernie's changed much," says one defensive assistant whose team faced the Browns this fall. "But they probably do only about 25 percent of the things you see other teams do."

"Maybe Bernie's getting gun-shy back there," says Bronco quarterback John Elway. "It'd be a natural reaction to getting hit in the face on every play."

Factors that threaten Kosar's longevity:

•His health and mobility. In 1988, he missed eight games because of knee-and elbow-ligament injuries, and last season he played through more right-elbow pain. He also had dislocated right index and middle fingers, a strained right shoulder and, during the playoffs, a staph infection that swelled his right arm to almost double its normal size. By the end of last year, after being sacked 34 times, he couldn't lift his throwing arm over his head. "With injuries, a lot of it is whether you think you're hurt," says Kosar. "I just don't think about injuries."

•His offensive line. The Browns had a veteran line in 1987, yet they drafted no linemen in '88 or '90, and their two choices in 1989—seventh-and 10th-round picks—are not on the team. In fairness to Cleveland, starting tackle Cody Risien and tackle-guard Rickey Bolden both retired during training camp, and guards Ted Banker and Dan Fike remain sidelined with knee injuries suffered last season. Kosar was hesitant to call audibles in September because of the line's lack of experience.

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