Unlikely role for Northcutt Saturday, October 23, 2004 Mary Kay Cabot Plain Dealer Reporter
Receiver Dennis Northcutt has gone from vowing he'd never play for the Browns again to finally getting another chance to start.
Thanks to Andre Davis' turf toe and the trade of Quincy Morgan, Northcutt is expected to start Sunday against the 5-0 Eagles, along with fellow backup Andre King. And depend ing on how quickly new comer Anto nio Bryant catches on, Northcutt could make a case to keep the starting job.
"I've been here before in the starting lineup, and things didn't work out," Northcutt said. "It's been a long time since then.
"I have to remember how long it took me to get back here. But I wouldn't be in this position if they didn't believe in me."
Northcutt hasn't been a regular starter since his first and second seasons, 2000-01. After last season, he was excited about the prospect of becoming a free agent, because he wanted to start again.
It didn't happen. Northcutt wound up back with the Browns after his agent failed to file a letter in time for him to become a free agent. When he vowed in March that he'd never wear a Browns uniform again, he said, "I want to be a Pro Bowl receiver, and I'm never going to get that chance here."
For the first six games of the season, Northcutt came off the bench in passing situations. Despite the fact Morgan was unproductive and up to his old habits of catching one and dropping the next, Northcutt still couldn't crack the lineup.
Yet, he never regretted his decision to return.
"I've said from day one, I would never look back no matter how bad things may look, no matter how ugly they get," he said. "When I make a decision, I live with it and move forward. You can't go back in time."
Northcutt's biggest issue this season has been finding his chemistry with quarterback Jeff Garcia, especially on third down. In Pittsburgh, Garcia threw to Northcutt five times on third down but completed only one. They had a heated exchange after one botched pass near the goal-line.
"I think our timing is good," Northcutt said. "I don't think all of it's been our timing. It's that everything's different. We have different plays, a different coordinator and a different offense on third down. When I was making all those third downs in the past, it was a third-down package designed for Dennis Northcutt."
Northcutt, who made first downs on 41 of his 62 catches last season, leads the Browns with 21 receptions, but has only 172 yards for an 8.2-yard average. But perhaps the quarterback and receiver have turned the corner together. Last week against the Bengals, Northcutt made a sensational 49-yard, one-handed grab while he was falling on his back.
"Nine times out of 10, I don't make that catch," he said. "But 10 times out of 10 if I don't try, I never will. The play is never over until the ball hits the ground."
It's catches like those, he said, that will make for chemistry between him and Garcia.
"You want to get on the same page with the quarterback? Go out and make some plays for him and see what happens," Northcutt said. "Trust me, I know. I've had a couple of quarterbacks here."
He said he doesn't find it ironic that of the four receivers pictured on the cover of the media guide last season, Kevin Johnson and Morgan are gone and he's still here.
"Things happen," he said. "You have to have your head on a swivel because you never know what's going to happen. Quincy was unhappy, so it's not that surprising, but I was a little shocked. But you just have to move on and make the best of it."
He said he'll do everything he can to help Bryant, despite the fact it could mean the loss of the starting job he so covets.
"I told him, 'We're a family here and we'll do everything we can to bring you along,' " he said. "I said, 'This group is very tight and we welcome you with open arms. We want you to come in and help us make plays. Welcome to the family.' "