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Jake's Cleveland debut all too familiar

Wearing brown pants, a black shirt and a few days' growth on his cheeks, Jake Delhomme walked with a slight limp and his head down as he left the Cleveland Browns locker room Sunday afternoon, quietly wheeling a small suitcase behind him.

Delhomme turned a corner, mounted a small stage in a hallway beneath Raymond James Stadium, stared into a klatch of cameras and microphones and did what he's had to do too many times.

Explain an interception.

Delhomme had thrown two interceptions in his regular-season debut with the Cleveland Browns, more than offsetting the 41-yard touchdown pass he threw to former Independence High star Mohamed Massaquoi in a 17-14 loss to Tampa Bay.

It was the pick he threw just before halftime, the one where Ben Watson looked open, and suddenly there was Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber returning the interception 64 yards to set up the touchdown that felt like it changed the game.

Just 38 seconds before halftime, leading 14-3 and with Cleveland driving for another potential score before the half, Delhomme believed he could get the ball to Watson, who appeared to both the quarterback and his coach, Eric Mangini, to be open when it mattered.

Delhomme, though, was being pulled down from behind as he threw, Watson's piece of daylight disappeared and it felt familiar even if Delhomme was wearing a brown jersey and orange helmet when it happened.

"They let Ben go free and I tried to get it to him. I've got to be smarter than that," Delhomme said. "That was a 10-point swing in my mind."

If Delhomme or Mangini flashed back to the images of interceptions that led the 12-year quarterback from Carolina to Cleveland, they didn't admit it after the game. However, Mangini was asked afterward if he still had confidence in Delhomme as his quarterback.

That didn't take long.

"I have full confidence in him," Mangini said.

For Delhomme, who has never tried hard to hide his emotions, the disappointment was practically spray-painted on his face. He understands where he and the Browns are right now. They're starting over together, Delhomme looking to finish his career in a happy spot, the Browns trying to rediscover their long-lost glory.

They were in position to win their opener against a Tampa Bay team that is limited offensively and was in danger of falling too far behind shortly before Delhomme tossed his fateful interception.

Other mistakes contributed. Delhomme and Massaquoi had a miscommunication on a third-quarter play that led to the second interception. Earlier in the third quarter, the Browns were driving when running back Peyton Hillis lost a fumble at the Tampa 15.

There were penalties, missed assignments and ragged edges, all of which kept the Bucs close and, ultimately, cost Cleveland.

"I'm as disappointed as anyone," Delhomme said.

It had started so well.

Late in the first quarter, Delhomme stood in the pocket, looked downfield and saw Massaquoi open behind the defense. It was a 41-yard touchdown pass the way they look in the playbook.

And there was Delhomme, making sure to bump fists or chests or slap the rear end of every offensive player on the field before jogging to the sideline. It's what Delhomme brings to a team.

"He's special," Massaquoi said. "He gives you that vibe you had when you were playing Pop Warner football, when the game is just pure fun."

Then the interception just before halftime changed the vibe and the sting was still fresh after the game.

"I didn't see the replay but I probably should have taken a sack," Delhomme said. "Sometimes you get burned. More times than not you can make it happen. It was a good call. We almost had it. ...But it's why Ronde is still playing."

And it's why Delhomme is still playing. It ended badly in Charlotte with the six-turnover performance in the playoffs against Arizona then the five-turnover season-opener against Philadelphia last year. He finished his Panthers career holding a clipboard on the sideline with a broken finger.

Delhomme could have taken the easy way, signed a contract to back up Drew Brees in New Orleans, near his Breaux Bridge, La., home, and possibly gotten to another Super Bowl. Instead, he jumped at Cleveland's offer to be the quarterback, knowing the risks and embracing them.

After the game, Delhomme was apologetic for declining an Observer interview request last week but he "wanted it to be about the Browns."

He's sold his house in Charlotte, left a franchise that was home for seven years but didn't entirely cut his ties.

Delhomme and his successor, Matt Moore, traded texts on Friday. He remains close with tight end Jeff King and offensive lineman Jordan Gross and received calls from friends in the organization this week.

Before school started, Delhomme's wife and children spent a few days back in Charlotte. "We have some roots there," Delhomme said.

Delhomme's future, though, is in Cleveland.

He says he's enjoying himself and when he says, "This is where I want..." Delhomme pauses briefly.

"I wanted to finish in Carolina but this is it," he said. "I'm disappointed today but enjoying myself. We'll see what happens here and go from there."

Then he walked toward the bus, looking up.

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