Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell said yesterday that the announcement of his team's move to Baltimore has put the Browns in a "lame duck" situation for the remainder of the season.
Modell also said he still plans on keeping Bill Belichick when the team relocates in Baltimore, but left himself a window for releasing the fifth-year coach.
Modell spent Monday night in Baltimore in front of a television watching the Pittsburgh Steelers humiliate the 4-6 Browns, 20-3, before a national audience.
"We're a lame duck right now," Modell said.
"I tried so desperately to have the politicians put the announcement on hold until a December deadline. We were a lame duck last Sunday [a 37-10 loss to the Houston Oilers], were a lame duck against Pittsburgh last night, will be a lame duck against Green Bay in Cleveland Sunday and against Pittsburgh the following week."
Twice last week, Modell said he would retain Belichick, an Annapolis native, as coach, but yesterday said that he would meet with him at the end of the season for an evaluation of the team.
"I made that statement to the players [about Belichick's return], and I'm a man of my word," Modell said.
"But I will review the entire picture with Bill from top to bottom. I'm not trying to leave myself an out, but I have some concerns that need to be addressed."
Of the loss to the Steelers, Modell said: "It was a very disappointing performance by the Browns. We are a much better team than that. We're in a tailspin and were in one before the announcement by Baltimore."
Cleveland's defense played fairly well, holding Pittsburgh to 310 yards in total offense.
The Steelers scored on Kordell Stewart's 2-yard pass to Ernie Mills in the second quarter and had 38- and 34-yard field goals from Norm Johnson in the third but didn't put the game out of reach until Neil O'Donnell threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Yancey Thigpen with 8:47 remaining in the game.
Cleveland managed just 120 yards of total offense, only 10 in the second half. Rookie quarterback Eric Zeier, making only his third start, completed only seven of 19 passes for 67 yards.
The Browns didn't have a first down in the second half. None.
Belichick said he gave no thought to pulling Zeier and inserting veteran Vinny Testaverde, who was having his best season until being benched after a 23-15 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 22.
"No," said Belichick, when asked whether he thought about using Testaverde.
"Eric Zeier is our quarterback. Eric Zeier will be our quarterback next week."
Modell would comment only briefly about the quarterback situation.
"There are some reasons, but I can't go into that right now," Modell said about Testaverde.
"Zeier had a difficult time against a sophisticated defense which moves a lot of people around. But he is the Browns' quarterback of the future, come hell or high water."
Modell suggested that some of the team's offensive problems could be a result of Belichick's spending too much time with the defense after Browns defensive coordinator Rick Venturi fell ill during the preseason.
Belichick was defensive coordinator of the New York Giants when they won the Super Bowl in January 1991.
"I saw Rick Venturi back on the sidelines last night, but I'm not sure about his practice time," Modell said. "You can't be a head coach and a defensive coordinator at the same time. Some have done that, but not divorced themselves from the entire activities of the team."
Cleveland has lost five of six games after a 3-1 start.
"We are the only team to beat Kansas City, and that was a resounding victory," Modell said. "We have to find a way to reverse this downward spiral."
The locker room was mostly quiet after Monday night's loss. Zeier spent several minutes defending his play to reporters. A few feet way, wide receiver Andre Rison complained about not having enough receptions -- he caught two passes for 22 yards.
And back in Baltimore, Modell was planning for the future.
"There will be no backlash from Baltimore fans," Modell said about the team's poor performances.
"We had a great winning percentage in Cleveland, and we'll be a very strong contender here. We'll build Baltimore a team they can be proud of."