BEREA, Ohio (AP) – The last time Josh McCown was honored as his conference’s offensive player of the week, he received something unexpected along with the award.
“I got benched,” he said, cracking a smile. “So I’ve got my fingers crossed right now.”
Coming off the best regular-season performance by a quarterback in team history, McCown, who sprained his left ankle while leading Cleveland on a game-winning drive in overtime to beat Baltimore last week, intends to be on the field Sunday against the unbeaten Denver Broncos and their top-ranked defense.
McCown’s ankle remains sore, but he practiced Wednesday and didn’t show any obvious issues during the portion open to reporters. McCown will need to be as close to 100 percent as possible against the Broncos (5-0), who lead the league with 22 sacks and have forced 17 turnovers.
McCown shook his head and took a long pause when he was asked what makes Denver’s defense so dangerous.
“We’re going to be here a while,” he said. “They’re really good.”
No NFL quarterback was as good this past week as McCown, who passed for 457 yards and two touchdowns in the Browns’ 33-30 win over the Ravens. The 36-year-old completed 36 of 51 passes, didn’t throw an interception and scored on a 10-yard run. It was his third straight game over 300 yards passing, a first for any Cleveland quarterback.
His solid play has given the Browns confidence and some rare momentum that they hope to keep rolling.
Wide receiver Brian Hartline said McCown is making things easier and everyone around him better. That’s what elite quarterbacks do, and that’s what McCown has been lately.
“The biggest thing is that you’re not stressing,” Hartline said. “You just worry about doing your job and you’re just a piece of the puzzle. A lot of times you start pressing and trying to make plays because you haven’t yet or you’re picking up for somebody or whatever the case may be. You know that guy is going to do his job and I’m going to do mine.”
McCown has done his job at an unexpected level the past three weeks, passing for 1,154 yards with six TDs and just one interception. It’s more than the Browns (2-3) could have hoped for and McCown’s performance has quieted the drumbeat for backup Johnny Manziel.
However, McCown’s recklessness could get him sidelined for longer if he’s not careful. Already in his brief tenure with the Browns, McCown has hurt his finger, sustained a concussion, injured his right hand and now twisted his ankle.
He was lucky to walk away from another play last week, when he banged his head while forcing a pass that was intercepted but negated by a roughing call.
McCown lamented his poor decision.
“When you have a play like that, you kind of deserve to get your head bounced off the turf,” he said. “It was stupid, sometimes you get those subtle reminders of things you can do and can’t do.”
Coach Mike Pettine called McCown’s gaffe “one of his poor decisions of the day.” Pettine has spoken to McCown before about being so bold, especially after the opener when he launched himself on a daring run against the Jets and suffered his concussion.
He can’t be so brazen against the Broncos or they’ll make McCown pay.
“That is why it is important for us to emphasize the pass protection, but part of it is Josh, too,” Pettine said. “There are times where – just throw the ball away. He is so competitive and so wants to make a play, but he has to understand that he is not 24 anymore.”
The Browns can’t afford to lose McCown now, not with the Broncos lying ahead and not with him playing the way he did in 2013 for Chicago. McCown filled in for an injured Jay Cutler and threw 13 TD passes in a five-game stretch – four against Dallas to be named the NFC’s player of the week – before losing his job when the Bears starter returned.
McCown respects the Broncos, but he and his teammates can’t be in awe.
“We have to trust our ability to go out and execute as well,” he said. “You just can’t fold up the tent and go, ‘We’ve got the No. 1 defense this week, who do we got next after that?’ It’s going to be a huge, huge hill to climb.”
NOTES: CB Joe Haden (concussion), LB Craig Robertson (ankle) and S Tashaun Gipson (ankle) did not practice. Gipson missed last week’s game, but is no longer wearing a protective boot. … LB Scott Solomon (knee) was placed on injured reserve and the Browns claimed DB Don Jones from New Orleans.