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Brown dazzles in season debut

Courtney Brown had watched from the sideline for six weeks. He needed just one minute to show the Cleveland Browns he was worth waiting for.

On his first play of 2001, the defensive end made the tackle. On the next snap, he scooped up a fumble and ran 25 yards for a touchdown.

He spent the rest of Sunday running over the Chicago Bears.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Browns quarterback Tim Couch said. “We see him do that to our guys every day. He’s in my face all the time in practice.”

Brown, playing his first game this season after missing six weeks with an injured knee, had a dazzling debut in Cleveland’s stunning overtime loss to the Bears.

Brown had three sacks, forced a fumble, batted down two passes, and made seven tackles. He scored the touchdown, hassled Bears QB Shane Matthews and dropped more than 66,000 jaws at Soldier Field with a dominating performance.

And he did it all as a part-time player.

“Oh, man,” Browns defensive tackle Gerard Warren said. “He’s something. I knew what kind of player he was, but he opened it right. He showed he’s 100 percent healthy ready to rumble.”

Brown sprained his right knee during the preseason, an injury which initially was supposed to keep him out for two weeks. But soreness lingered, and the Browns held out their top defensive player until they were sure he was ready.

“He played phenomenal,” Browns coach Butch Davis said. “He was just short of exceptional in the sense that he exceeded the expectations of anybody on our coaching staff had with him coming back in his first ballgame.”

Davis wanted to break in Brown slowly, limiting him to 35-to-40 plays. But when left end Keith McKenzie broke his ankle in the first quarter, Brown was forced to play more than he or the Browns could have ever expected.

“As guys got hurt we had no other recourse,” Davis said. “It was play him or play with 10.”

There were moments when it looked like Brown could handle the Bears by himself. He was unstoppable, manhandling Bears veteran tackle Blake Brockermeyer.

“He responded like a champion,” Davis said. “He played the run well. He pressured the quarterback. He pursued. He got winded. He took himself out a couple of times just to try to recover and rest, but that was more than to be expected. He just played outstanding.”

The ever-humble, soft-spoken Brown was more critical of his play. He said there were some “little things that I need to clean up,”but it’s hard to imagine him doing anything better.

“I didn’t know exactly how I would play. But I felt comfortable and confident,” Brown said. “I felt pretty good.”

And his knee?

“Feels fine,” he said in his baritone whisper.

Imagine what he’ll do when he and his knee feel great.

The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder used his speed to get past Brockermeyer, and he overpowered the tackle by pushing him straight back in the pocket.

His most impressive play came on a fourth-and-4 early in the fourth quarter when he beat Brockermeyer, sacked Matthews and forced a fumble the Bears recovered.

It was the type of play the Browns envisioned Brown making routinely when they selected the former Penn State All-American with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 draft.

Last season, Brown made three sacks in Cleveland’s Week 3 win over Pittsburgh, but recorded just 1.5 sacks during the last 13 weeks of his rookie season.

Davis thinks Brown can thrive on a defense that has more weapons than it did a year ago.

“It’s tough when you’re the only guy expected to put pressure on the quarterback,” Davis said. “We now have a lot of guys who can do that.”

But not as well as Brown, who’ll have a tough time topping his season debut.

“I knew he was going to do that,” safety Earl Little said. “He’s a machine.”

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