It was supposed to be a brutal baptismal into the world of NFL football for Colt McCoy.
The Browns rookie quarterback was thrust into a starting role Oct. 17 against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Heinz Field, a stadium that has made for miserable days for many quarterbacks. Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace were both sidelined with ankle injuries, meaning that McCoy, who wasn't supposed to play a game this season, according to team president Mike Holmgren, was forced to start.
The Browns went home with a defeat that day, 28-10, but McCoy went home feeling better about his chances of succeeding in the NFL. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 281 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The performance was good enough that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told McCoy that he was proud of him after the game.
McCoy gets a second shot at the Steelers Sunday at Browns Stadium, which will mark his eighth starting assignment. He hopes the lessons he learned from the game in October will help.
"Pittsburgh is obviously Pittsburgh," McCoy said. "Our coaches call them 'Blitzburgh.' They're really good at what they do. They're veterans, they're crafty and I think they're a defense who creates turnovers and finds ways to win. The number one thing for us this week is to handle what they do up front and protect the football. If we do those two things, we give ourselves a chance."
McCoy had been posting impressive numbers for a rookie until he ran into a roadblock last week in the form of Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, who intercepted two of the three interceptions he threw. For the season McCoy has completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,367 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions.
McCoy might face another great safety Sunday in Troy Polamalu, who could be a game-time decision because of an Achilles' injury. Like Reed, Polamalu never seems to be in one place.
"They play a little bit different spots, but they play the same way," McCoy said. "They're risky, they strive to make plays and that's what has made them who they are. They're the best safeties in the league. I'll have to be better, more sharp looking off, finding the open guy without them being around. It's tough.
"I told you last week when we were going in there that I've got to be alert for Ed Reed. I've got to know where he's at and he can't make plays, and he made two on us. For me as a rookie quarterback, I have to eliminate those mistakes. I'm the quarterback. I've got to eliminate those things, and this week is no different going up against Troy and their defense."
McCoy seems to be laying the groundwork to be the starter in 2011. That could change if a new coach is in place or if general manager Tom Heckert decides to use what could be a top-10 draft pick on one of the top quarterbacks.
McCoy admittedly doesn't like to talk about himself. When asked if he's improved since that start in Pittsburgh, he turned it into an answer about the entire team.
"I think team-wise, we're playing well together," he said. "The offensive line is doing a great job blocking. I know we haven't run the ball as much as we'd like, but we didn't give up a sack against Baltimore. That's a tribute to the offensive line.
"They played great, and I expect them to play great again this week. We're doing a lot of good things. We've just got to improve, and we've got one more chance to do that."
A win over the Steelers in the season finale would make for an easier transition to the offseason.