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For the Cleveland Browns coach, it's reality. Palmer

By Tom WithersAssociated Press Published: October 31, 2000 12:00 AM

For the Cleveland Browns coach, it's reality.

Palmer has learned the hard way this season that planning too far ahead can be very dangerous. He's already lost four offensive starters, including franchise quarterback Tim Couch, to season-ending injuries. And the past few weeks, he's had to shuffle linebackers and wide receivers because of injury.

So imagine Palmer's trouble answering a simple question like: Who will start at QB this Sunday against the New York Giants, Doug Pederson or rookie Spergon Wynn?

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"If everything runs smooth, and there's no problems, then Pederson starts," Palmer said Monday. "But the way things are going, anything can happen."

Nothing has been easy for the second-year Browns, who dropped their sixth straight game on Sunday with a 12-3 loss to Cincinnati.

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But this loss, maybe more than the other 20 since the beginning of last season, was especially tough to watch for Browns fans, most of whom were headed home before it ended.

Cleveland's offense gained only 182 yards despite facing the NFL's 25th ranked defense; Chris Gardocki punted eight times; the biggest offensive play came via a Bengals penalty; and the Browns committed nine penalties.

Even when they finally scored on a field goal _ ending a 128:58 drought over three games _ the Browns were booed.

The only positive was the defense, which for the second straight week played well enough to deserve better.

"It's frustrating," said tackle Darius Holland. "When we saw the film it wasn't, 'Damn we held them to 10 points. It was, 'Damn, we missed too many tackles."'

Cleveland figured it endured enough pain during a 2-14 expansion season last year.

But injuries this season have decimated the Browns (2-7), sabotaging any growth on a young team with little depth. The Browns have also hurt themselves with too many penalties, and in fairness, the ball hasn't bounced their way either.

Cleveland's defense has had a chance to recover 10 fumbles, but has yet to come up with one.

"You had to bring up one of my nightmares," Palmer said when reminded of the statistic. "That's just the luck of the bounce."

Palmer rotated his quarterbacks with mixed results against the Bengals, and said he may use the two-quarterback system again this week.

Once again, he doesn't have much of a choice with little separating Pederson, an eight-year veteran, and Wynn, a sixth-round draft pick from Southwest Texas State.

Pederson started and played eight series, completing 6-of-16 passes for 65 yards and was in when the Browns scored their only points. Wynn was 7-of-16 for 82 yards with one interception in five series.

"I thought both quarterbacks played to their ability," Palmer said, summing up a dreary situation.

Wynn entered the game with the Browns pinned back at their own 2, and showed off his strong arm with a deep pass that was tipped away. There were times when Wynn's inexperience showed, but as far as Palmer's concerned, he's worth taking another look at.

"He's a very bright guy, but he's not seeing the whole field right now," Palmer said. "We have to pick and choose. He has to be able to tell me at the end of the week that he's comfortable in certain situations. Hopefully, he will continue to grow.

"If we just left him on the bench, I don't know that (he) would grow as fast as he is right now."

After reviewing game film, Palmer said there were plenty of other reasons why the Browns' offense sputtered, rushing for just 54 yards and passing for 128.

"It wasn't the quarterback play that hurt us," he said. "It was the dropped passes and the things that didn't keep us going."

Like Cleveland's three failed attempts to score from the Bengals' 1-yard line.

Three times the Browns handed the ball to Travis Prentice, who launched himself over the pile only to be knocked back. Palmer said he didn't hesitate to call the same play on third down.

"If we can't move the ball six inches, we don't deserve to win," he said.

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