ALBUQUERQUE -- To look at Bernie Kosar is to wonder how anyone so young, so gangly and so unorthodox-looking could have what it takes to even play quarterback in the NFL, much less lead a team to three consecutive division titles by the age of 24.

But fortunately for the Cleveland Browns, what you get is a whole lot more than what you see. Denver nose tackle Greg Kragen's thoughts are not unlike many defensive players around the league regarding Kosar.

"He's the guy you look at before the start of a game and immediately think to yourself, 'We can tee off on this guy because he can't go anywhere.' But he gets just far enough out of your way to complete every important pass he needs to," Kragen said, as the Broncos prepare to deal with Kosar and the Browns in Sunday's AFC championship rematch.

Kosar would be an NFL rookie if he hadn't decided to graduate early with a dual degree in finance and economics -- with honors -- from the University of Miami. He is 12 days younger than former teammate Vinny Testaverde, who struggled through his rookie season with Tampa Bay.

But Kosar has said repeatedly, when asked about the Browns' three AFC Central titles in his three years at quarterback, that "youth is no excuse for failure."

Neither, apparently, is physique. At 6 feet 5, 210 pounds, Kosar looks like he might be a third-string forward for a Division II basketball team. And his passing motion -- if one can call it that -- confounds teammates, coaches and, certainly, opponents.

Art Modell, the Browns' owner and president, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, described Kosar's delivery as "side-armed, underhanded, submarine, spitball, slider, knuckleball, and that's only in the first possession."

The height -- Kosar is as tall as most of the defensive linemen in the league -- allows Kosar to get off those sidearm throws without having them blocked.

"He moves around pretty good in this small, little area," Kragen said. "But you never know where the release is coming from. He must be doing something right, however, with all that he's done."

And that's the only point worth making when evaluating Kosar. The Browns are 30-17 the past three years. Kosar has started all but two of the 44 games he has played in, having taken over in 1985 when Gary Danielson was injured.

Kosar led Cleveland to a club-record 12 victories last season, throwing 17 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. He finished this season as the AFC's top-rated passer, with a 95.4 rating. And over the past two seasons, his 2.0 interception rate is the league's lowest.

Kosar may be the physical flip-flop of Denver's John Elway, his counterpart in Sunday's game at Denver's Mile High Stadium. But the results have been about the same. In fact, Kosar's game is a much more low-risk, high-efficiency one.

His 62 percent completion rate led the AFC and is second in Browns history only to Otto Graham's 64.7 figure in 1953. His 22 touchdown passes during the regular season were impressive enough, but his nine interceptions -- fewer than Dan Marino, Steve Krieg, Jim Kelly, Elway, Joe Montana, Neil Lomax or Randall Cunningham -- make the statistic that much more significant.

So don't tell Kosar he looks funny. "People have been telling me that since the seventh grade," he said. "How I look is of no consequence to me. Winning or losing is how a quarterback is judged."

Graham has said, "I believe Kosar is going to be one of the best before he's through. He throws with such accuracy. I liked to throw long and I know he can do that. He's got the size and he moves better than I expected."

He also moves the team. Almost completely forgotten in the glory of The Drive, the 98-yard miracle Denver and Elway used to beat Cleveland last year, was the fact that Kosar passed for 259 yards and two touchdowns to Elway's 244 and one touchdown.

Even fewer remember the previous week when Kosar directed Cleveland on an 82-yard drive that helped beat the New York Jets in the playoffs. Kosar ended that day with 33 completions in 64 passes, for 489 yards and a touchdown.

Getting Kosar to talk about his performances is as difficult as blocking one of his passes at the line of scrimmage, because the quarterback would rather talk about anybody or anything than himself. Golf, his interest in the stock market, his teammates or anything else. So he really frowns when anybody asks him to compare himself with Elway.

"They're totally different," Browns Coach Marty Schottenheimer said Wednesday before his team's workout here, where the atmospheric conditions are a lot like what the Browns will find in Denver. "We never get into the shotgun, and John is always in it. He runs bootleg and action plays and we don't. There's a real difference in the athletes, and the offenses as they are designed to incorporate those individuals."

Kosar told the Los Angeles Times: "I'm not gifted with 4.5 speed {in the 40-yard dash}, so I have to make up for it in the mental end -- knowing where I want to go with the ball, being sharp in my coverages. I don't have the ability to outrun many people."

So Kosar, to listen to defenders and coaches around the league, outthinks them. He may be 24, but his game is crafty and slick. The quarterbacks he admired as a youngster were Don Strock, Jim Plunkett and Earl Morrall. None ever entered a triathlon.

Kosar surprised a lot of people in 1985 when he announced he was leaving Miami and wanted to play in Cleveland. No place else. Kosar is from a town just outside of Youngstown, Ohio, and wanted to play for the team he had long followed. In three short years, it has become the team that has followed him.