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Dilfer Leads Bucs Over Browns

Round One of the preseason debate over who should be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting quarterback went to Trent Dilfer.

The sixth-year pro silenced his critics for at least another week Saturday night, throwing two touchdown passes in a 30-3 exhibition victory over the Cleveland Browns.

"I felt good out there, but I've got to be honest. I'm still not where I need to be fundamentally. It's going to look good because I had guys go up and make plays," Dilfer said.

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  • Tim Couch, meanwhile, showed why Browns fans are going to need to be patient with his development.

    After an impressive debut in Cleveland's overtime victory over Dallas in the Hall of Fame game, the first overall pick in the draft threw for just 27 yards and the Browns didn't make a first down on any of his six possessions.

    Despite the results, Couch felt he progressed.

    "Any time I play against a team that gives me a lot of defensive looks, I learn something ... I didn't take a step backwards. It was a struggle. All you can do is just learn from it."

    Dilfer was 7-of-10 for 122 yards and threw TD passes of 5 yards to Dave Moore and 45 yards to Jacquez Green on the only two series he played.

    He was replaced in the second quarter by Eric Zeier, who directed two drives that resulted in field goals and built Tampa Bay's lead to 20-3 at the half.

    The game was delayed for 45 minutes by lightning with 6:22 remaining in the third quarter.

    Dilfer is under pressure this season to improve Tampa Bay's passing game and take some of the burden off runners Warrik Dunn and Mike Alstott to carry the offense.

    The Bucs face a decision next winter on whether to exercise the option on his contract for 2000 and have taken steps to help him be more successful.

    For the first time in four seasons under coach Tony Dungy, Tampa Bay has a quarterbacks coach and are utilizing the shotgun formation to give Dilfer more time to read defenses.

    A poor performance last week in a controlled scrimmage against Miami hasn't helped the quarterback's popularity among fans. He was booed during pregame introductions, but didn't give the crowd of 63,963 much to jeer in the quarter he played.

    Dilfer completed four of five passes on his first series and was 3-for-3 for 81 yards in the shotgun, including his TD pass to Green, who made a nice adjustment to make the catch over defender Duane Butler.

    "My teammates were really good this week. Everybody was coming by, patting me on the back and pumping me up," Dilfer said. "I don't think anybody on the team ever lost confidence in me, and I never lost confidence in myself."

    Danny Kight kicked a 27-yard field goal on Cleveland's first possession, but the Browns didn't make another first down until Tampa Bay's Troy Saunders was penalized for pass interference late in the fourth quarter inside the Bucs' 10.

    That was hardly a breakthrough, though. Four plays later, the Browns turned the ball over on downs at the 1.

    Ty Detmer was 2-of-7 for 22 yards before Couch entered the game at the start of the second quarter. The rookie was 11-of-17 for 137 yards and a touchdown in his debut against the Cowboys, however Tampa Bay's defense was much tougher to solve.

    The Browns went without a first down on nine straight possessions, including all six directed by Couch, who was 5-of-12. The No. 1 pick was sacked three times and penalized once for intentional grounding.

    Zeier completed eight of his first nine passes and finished 11-of-16 for 135 yards with one interception. Rookie Shaun King entered the game on the series Tampa Bay was starting when lightning sent the teams to the locker room.

    Following the delay, King threw a 17-yard TD pass to Anthony DiCosmo and led another drive that resulted in a field goal. He finished 4-of-10 for 50 yards.

    The Bucs played without Dunn, who sat out with a sore hamstring, and top receiver Bert Emanuel, who suffered a concussion in practice last week.

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