On Christmas Eve a rookie quarterback named Jake

By David Carducci Record-Courier staff writer Published:

On Christmas Eve a rookie quarterback named Jake Delhomme, who had never taken an NFL snap before Friday, led the New Orleans Saints to a shocking 31-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

The win lifted New Orleans' record to 3-12, one full game better than Cleveland. That means if the Browns lose today to the Indianapolis Colts, they will be guaranteed the worst record in the league at 2-14, and therefore will own the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.

The Browns still don't want to think about that No. 1 pick.

"We want to win," said rookie wide receiver Darrin Chiaverini. "I think a win would help our confidence going into the offseason."

That was the case for the Jacksonville Jaguars at the tail end of their inaugural year.

The Jaguars surprised the Browns 24-21 in the final week of 1995, and according to Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin the win did wonders for team morale.

"It really helped us for our offseason," said Coughlin. "We had lost seven in a row, and that win gave us something to remember. It was a good, physical game, and guys really stepped up and played well. It gave us a positive feeling for the completion of the year. It also gave us four wins, which was nothing to be boastful about but was a respectable number of wins for a first-year team.

"I think it also helped us analyze exactly where we needed help and what we needed. It helped evaluate the talent we had on board and our expansion draft people."

Evaluation is the real purpose for the Browns in today's season finale.

Cleveland will have a chance to evaluate the backups on the offensive line.

With starting linemen Lomas Brown, Orlando Brown and Dave Wohlabaugh all out with injuries, the Browns will face the AFC East champion Colts with a makeshift line that will feature rookie Steve Zahursky (Kent State) at left tackle, Jim Bundren at center, Orlando Bobo at right guard and Scott Rehberg at right tackle.

Only left guard Jim Pyne remains from the Browns' opening day starting lineup.

"He's the 'Last of the Mohicans,' " Lomas Brown joked. "We're telling him he better watch out, 'cuz if he goes down nobody's going to be left."

In addition to changes on the offensive line, the Browns will have a new starting quarterback for the first time in 14 weeks. Ty Detmer will start in place of Tim Couch, who will not start due to a sprained foot suffered in last week's 24-14 loss to the Jaguars.

A MODEL IN INDIANAPOLIS ... The Browns are looking to the Indianapolis Colts for inspiration for next season.

"Going through a year like this will just make it more enjoyable when we turn things around." said Browns punter Chris Gardocki. "I don't know how long it will take. I haven't really given it much thought but you look at what Indianapolis did, going from 3-13 last year to winning the AFC East this season. I don't see any reason why we can't turn it around like that."

The Colts were in a similar situation to the Browns last season, allowing a rookie quarterback to learn under fire. After a rough rookie year, Peyton Manning has blossomed into one of the league's best quarterbacks, leading the Colts to a 12-2 record and an East Division title.

The Browns hope Couch will follow a similar career path.

JOHNSON IS EMERGENCY QB ... With Couch out of action today, the Browns will dress just two quarterbacks _ starter Ty Detmer and backup Jamie Martin.

With that in mind, rookie wide receiver Kevin Johnson asked to take some snaps with the scout team on Wednesday.

Johnson was a quarterback when he started his college career at Syracuse, but moved to wide receiver because of the emergence of Donovan McNabb.

"I hadn't played quarterback in a while, but I didn't think I threw the ball too bad," Johnson said after completing 5-of-9 passes in two series during practice on Wednesday. "I had to shake a little rust off."

Palmer said Johnson will be the emergency quarterback against the Colts.

"I think Kevin is trying to start a quarterback controversy," Palmer joked.

With only one original starter available on the offensive line, Johnson at quarterback may not be something to joke about.

FORMER BROWN INDICTED ... Remember George Jones, the little-used running back who played six games with the Browns before being released Nov. 23.

According to allegations made in an indictment unsealed in a federal court in San Diego on Wednesday, Jones illegally imported and possessed anabolic steroids and more than 4,600 tablets of clonazepan.

Clonazepan is a federally controlled depressant.

He and a personal trainer and body builder Jess Patrick Auguon were arraigned on Wednesday.

According to a story in a Cleveland paper, Jones was still a member of the Browns when the illegal activity took place.

Jones and Auguon face maximum sentences of 20 years in prison and fines if convicted of the charges.

MOST IMPROVEMENT ... Browns coach Chris Palmer was asked recently to name the players he thinks have improved the most in 1999.

His choices: rookie wide receivers Kevin Johnson and Darrin Chiaverini, middle linebacker Wali Rainer, and offensive lineman Steve Zahursky.

"I think Zahursky has been a real surprise," said Palmer. "He is a very athletic guy. That's why we moved him to left tackle last week. We thought, athletically, he would be a good matchup against (Jacksonville defensive end) Tony Brackens."

Zahursky will be making his second start of the season today at left tackle.

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