CLEVELAND — A young quarterback's career does not begin until he has his first bad game. It is how that quarterback responds from such a game will tell a lot about his chances to succeed in this league.
Joe Montana had bad games.
Peyton Manning had bad games.
Colt McCoy finally had his bad game in Sunday's 20-10 loss to Baltimore. It was the type of game he has been able to avoid in his six previous starts.
Entering Sunday, McCoy completed 65.8 percent of his passes, averaged 8.01 yards per attempt, had only three interceptions and had a 93.0 quarterback rating. On Sunday, McCoy's stats were down in all four aforementioned categories. McCoy completed 51.7 percent of his passes, averaged 5.13 yards per attempt, threw three interceptions and finished with a 27.0 quarterback rating.
"They made plays and I made some poor throws," McCoy said. "They had the upper hand. I just got to play better. For me, I've got to do a lot of things better."
Ed Reed had two of McCoy's three interceptions and now has six on the season. What is even more impressive is Reed missed the Ravens' first six games this season as he was on the physically unable to perform list.
"He just played so well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's such a factor back there, run game and pass game."
Reed is in his ninth season in the NFL. He is a six-time Pro Bowl selection, he was named the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, he has 52 career interceptions and he was named to the NFL's all-decade team.
Ed Reed can play football and coming into the game McCoy knew that. Unfortunately, McCoy played like a rookie facing a talented and veteran defender.
"Ed Reed is one of the greatest football players and has been the last 10 years," McCoy said. "I know I had to be aware of him at all times. I made a couple of poor throws and it cost us today.
"He read my eyes on both interceptions. I've got to go back and watch the tape."
Reed's second and final interception came with 4:51 left in the game. The Browns trailed by 10 points, but were mounting a drive. McCoy and the Browns offense took over at their own 6-yard-line with 9:36 to play. The Browns moved down to the Ravens' 27-yard-line before Reed struck again.
"We're going to fight until the end," McCoy said. "I played as hard as I can, I just had a couple bad throws that is going to kill you."
McCoy was not about use an excuse. He could. For the entire game, a stiff wind was blowing off Lake Erie at a constant 20 mph. Passes floated. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco finished with only 102 yards passing.
"I should have made the throws," McCoy said. "I made those throws all season long."
McCoy was also not about to let the Ravens deflate his confidence, either.
"You can't ever lose your confidence," McCoy said. "Playing this position, you dust yourself off and do the things you've always done to be the best you can be. It's exactly what I'll do. Go back and learn. I'm harder on myself any anybody. I'll go in, watch the tape and take notes. Then it's onto Pittsburgh."
How McCoy spends his hours between now and next Sunday will only been witnessed by a few coaches and teammates. But if the past 16 weeks are any indication, McCoy will be next to offensive coordinator Brian Daboll pouring over game film, asking him questions, asking to be quizzed and trying to recreate the right answers on the practice field.
McCoy had his bad game. He took responsibility. He plans to learn from it and be better next Sunday. What if he is better? This young quarterback's career will have officially begun on a path toward success.
"I've learned a lot," he said. "When you go back and watch film with your coaches I'll learn even more. Anything you can do in this sport, especially for me, is go back and learn to not put yourself in that situation again. Turnovers killed us today and most of that is on me.
"I've got to be better."