CLEVELAND: Colt McCoy wouldn’t say whether it was precipitated by a watershed moment.
The Browns’ second-year quarterback didn’t divulge whether his improved play the past two games was prompted by a pull-no-punches talk with coach Pat Shurmur, his position coach Mark Whipple or perhaps even president Mike Holmgren.
Maybe McCoy merely saw his opportunity to be an NFL starter slipping away.
Considering his usually optimistic disposition, chances are it was not the latter.
But after treading water in the best of times and regressing in the worst of times during the first eight games this season, McCoy is finally starting to look like the quarterback of the future. With six games remaining, there are signs that the Browns might not have to use a coveted draft choice to replace him in April.
“I think week to week everyone sees that I am slowly getting better,” McCoy said.
For those looking for solid proof, McCoy provided it in the heart-pounding, 14-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium. After being picked off by safety Dawan Landry on third-and-5 from the Jacksonville 6 in the third quarter, McCoy came back to orchestrate a 12-play, 85-yard drive on the next series.
“It’s very impressive, and most guys won’t do that,” Browns 10-year veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown said.
While Shurmur said, “He’s learning how to let a bad play go,” McCoy called it “just part of growing up.”
“I just wish I could have had that one back,” he said of Landry’s pick on a pass intended for tight end Ben Watson. “When that happened I said, ‘We’re going to win this thing, trust me. You guys block, play one at a time, and we’ll go get it.’ ”
That’s bravado at its best from a team that had scored a total of two touchdowns in the previous four games. But McCoy made it happen.
In his past two games against the St. Louis Rams and Jaguars, McCoy has completed 72.5 percent (37-of-51) of his passes. In the first eight, his completion percentage was 57.4.
Against Jacksonville and St. Louis, he averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, as compared to 5.7 in the first eight. His passer rating in those two splits are 94.9 and 76.5, respectively. But numbers don’t tell the whole story of McCoy’s growing maturity.
After missing wide-open receiver Jordan Norwood on the second play of the game, McCoy vowed he would come back to him. He did, hitting Norwood for a 51-yard gain in the second quarter during an eight-play, 87-yard touchdown march.
On a 3-yard touchdown toss to Josh Cribbs with 12:15 remaining, Cribbs said McCoy “threw the ball in the only spot I could get it and nobody else could” in the front right corner of the end zone.
Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said at the beginning of the season opponents were blitzing on every down because McCoy was holding the ball too long and they were struggling in pass protection. Thomas said with that shored up, the running game improved and the receivers are making plays, the offense is gaining confidence and McCoy can take more shots downfield.
“Everybody around him is kind of stepping up our game,” Thomas said. “Colt is doing a really nice job out there as a leader and that’s really who he is.”
The Browns knew McCoy was smart. They knew he was tough, although he continues to illustrate that on a weekly basis.
Against the Jaguars, he said he first hurt his right shoulder when he was hit after the throw on a second-quarter, second-and-goal pass to running back Chris Ogbonnaya. Landry was called for pass interference and Jacksonville lost its challenge that the ball was tipped by former Brown C.J. Mosley.
It looked like McCoy’s day was done with 8:18 remaining in the third quarter. After a sack by Paul Posluszny on third down, McCoy came to the bench with his right arm hanging at his side and threw his helmet, knocking its ear flap off.
“The more I got hit, the more it was kind of bothering me,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot for me to come out of a game, but I was frustrated.”
A leaping penalty against the Jaguars on a successful 40-yard Phil Dawson field goal gave the Browns a first down at the Jacksonville 11, and McCoy trotted back out. After Landry’s interception, trainers worked on McCoy, putting up a phalanx of personnel to block the view. He did not miss a snap.
At the start of his postgame news conference, McCoy’s voice was breathy, almost as if he was bothered by pain in his chest. McCoy didn’t know if he would need an MRI on his shoulder today. Shurmur expects McCoy to have “general soreness” but said, “I think he’ll be fine.”
Thomas said it never crossed his mind that McCoy wouldn’t gut it out.
“I guess I wasn’t worried just because Colt is so tough,” Thomas said. “It’s unbelievable. He takes a lot of big hits and he’s not as big as Ben Roethlisberger.
“I saw he got knocked around a little bit and was a little bit shaken up. But when you look in his eyes you know he’s not coming out of the game unless he’s on a stretcher or something.”
Until the past two weeks, McCoy’s eyes may have said it all. Now his arm is starting to do the talking. That’s an encouraging sign, for the Browns’ future and his own.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://marla.ohio.com/. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MarlaRidenour. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.