If I were to write about every big play, every important play, every eventful play in this game, I would die of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This might be longer than Dr. Zhivago.
I went to a Browns/Bengals game, and a Texas Tech/Hawaii game broke out.
There were many heroes for the Browns in this game. We can gush about Derek Anderson. We can wax poetic about Jamal Lewis. We can brag about Braylon Edwards. We can spew orgasmic phrases about Kellen Winslow. We can offer pleasantries about Joe Jurevicius. But the real key to the game was the Offensive Line.
Anderson, Lewis, Edwards, Winslow, and Jurevicius don’t have their big days without the incredible efforts of Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach, Hank Fraley, Seth McKinney, and – yes, even you – Kevin Shaffer. Anderson wasn’t sacked all day. Hell, he was barely touched. And no one outside of Barry Sanders runs for over 200 yards without some nice blocking.
And since the Offensive Line is maybe the most important key to a team’s success, we should all feel fantastic about that aspect of the Cleveland Browns sports franchise. Hail, O Line! We are proud of ye!
As always, if you’d like the more compact version, feel free to skip ahead to the Conclusion. But this might be one game you want to recall.
I expect the Offense to look better, and I expect Derek Anderson to move the ball against a suspect Bengals D, but I expect him to make a couple key mistakes, and it will cost the Browns a chance to win. (I may have missed on this one.)
I expect the Defense to look even worse than last week, which is hard to do. (Unfortunately, this one was probably correct.)
I expect a much more competitive game, but, sadly, another Loss. (Only when you are as pessimistic as I can you truly enjoy being wrong. I am ecstatic about being wrong.)
My girlfriend, myself, and 2 of our friends went to the game. We got a late start, and didn’t arrive until about 10:30. Still, plenty of time for some mental lubrication, also known as drink enough to ease the impending pain.
Besides, I was the designated driver last year, and was not going to screw up my free pass.
Everywhere I looked, Bengals fans interacted with Browns fans. Every group seemed to have at least one individual wearing a Palmer jersey. I remarked on the phenomenon. It seems that Cincinnati fans are much less repugnant socially than Steelers or Ravens fans. And, truly, I must admit that the sight of some fool wearing tiger striped jerseys didn’t elicit the same amount of ire that I normally experience from those wearing black-n-yella or purple.
Maybe I was just surprised that the Bengals had fans. As recently as 5 years ago, they didn’t.
One of my friends, Franco, asked me “Over-under on Derek Anderson interceptions today?”
As much as it pained me to say it, I replied “Three.” My faith in the Browns was tarnished. I mean, there was a layer of muck on it thick enough to plant corn.
With about 15 minutes to game time, having used the parking lot as a bathroom only thrice, we headed towards the gates to foolishly try and resuscitate hope.
“That was quick,” Franco said.
“I don’t think they even had a 3rd down,” I replied. I was correct – they didn’t.
“Over-under on the crowd chanting for Brady?” he asked.
“9 minutes left in the 1st,” I said.
Derek Anderson did little to give us hope on Cleveland’s ensuing possession, as he threw two terrible passes en route to a Browns 3 and out. The crowd, already tense from last week’s debacle, began the booing process in a hurry.
“Over-under on how full the stadium is after Halftime?” Franco asked.
“65 percent,” I replied.
Little did I know what would happen after that. Those two errant throws by DA were obviously aimed at internal demons, and he nailed ‘em.
On the first play of the following Cincinnati possession, Robaire Smith sacked Carson Palmer for a loss of 7. That was important, as, two plays later, it caused Palmer to throw a highly inadvisable pass that was easily intercepted by Sean Jones.
Starting at the Bengals 37, Jamal Lewis ran the ball 3 straight times, banging out a 1st down. Then Anderson threw a perfect pass to Braylon Edwards in traffic. Edwards got hit, upended, and dropped the ball. It would’ve been a tough catch, but, if you want to be considered an elite receiver in this league… man, I could swear I’ve said this before.
My belief in Braylon has been notched up a bit since that moment.
On 3rd and 6 from the Cincy 22, Anderson dropped back, had the ball knocked out of his hands, recovered, moved to his right, and threw towards a wide open Joe Jurevicius in the end zone. Unfortunately, there was some kind of tractor beam about 6 yards out of bounds that sucked the easy TD right into an incompletion. When you get an opportunity like that, you have to take it, I thought. We’ll need to take advantage of every chance we get if we’re gonna hang in this game.
Field Goal. Bengals 7, Browns 3.
The Bengals got the ball back, but did very little with it. Orpheus Roye had a great opportunity to nail Rudi Johnson for a big loss, but tackling wasn’t the theme of the day, and Johnson got away and turned it into a 2 yard gain. Apparently, the offenses weren’t properly warmed up yet, since the Browns held and we saw the second punt of the game. They were to be few and far far between.
Starting at their own 19, the Browns moved right down the field into Bengals territory. Anderson was over his jitters, and his throws were crisp and his receivers were open. Edwards made a tough diving catch (the kind elite receivers make) over the middle for 20. But, the drive stalled at the Bengals 22. Derek Anderson didn’t have many bad throws after the opening possession, but he made one here as he almost threw an INT on 3rd and 7, and Phil Dawson came in for his second FG. Bengals 7, Browns 6.
Phil kicked off, the Coverage team made one of their few good plays of the day and stopped Cincy on their own 15. The quarter ended, and the scoreboard gave absolutely no evidence of what was yet to come.
End of 1st: Bengals 7, Browns 6.
It looked like the Bengals were going to march rapidly down the field as they got a pass to Chad Johnson (who had like 423 yards receiving) for 14 and a run by Rudi Johnson right up the gut for 20. But - Hallelujah! - Rudi was kind enough to fumble at the end of the run, and the Browns took over at midfield.
The wheels were greased now, and the Browns were undaunted by even a 3rd and 13, which they converted with a sweet pass to Winslow for 20 yards. Two plays later, Anderson dropped back and threw a perfect fade to Joe Jurevicius for the score, and – YE GODS! – we had ourselves a ballgame. Browns 13, Bengals 6.
That opened the floodgates. Even Noah was scared.
“So that’s what a lead feels like,” I told Franco.
“Weird,” he replied.
Employing the No Huddle, the Bengals moved the following possession right down the field. On 1st and 10 from the Cleveland 23, Palmer hoisted a pass to a wide WIDE open TJ Houshmandzadeh in the end zone for a TD. Or was it? The replays at the stadium certainly seemed to show that his 2nd foot was out of bounds, and Romeo challenged it. It was not overturned, and Browns fans around the world were incensed enough to overturn chairs and tables in protest. I tried my hardest to lose my voice in my anger, suggesting the ref do things to himself that are probably not physically possible. Even Houshmazilly thought he was out.
Watching the play again at home in super slow motion, it does appear that the ball hit TJ’s hands as his left foot was still on the ground. It was close. Close enough to not overturn… I guess… Dammit… Bengals 14, Browns 13.
A perturbed Josh Cribbs made the Bengals feel his displeasure as he returned the ensuing kickoff for 85 yards to the Cincy 11. There is no doubt in my mind that Cribbs is one of the top 3 Return men in the league, and his presence is going to give us many advantages. May he live a thousand years.
The drive was pretty easy from there, as – on 3rd down – Anderson dropped back, pump faked, went quickly through his progressions, and nailed Joe J for each player’s 2nd TD of the day. Browns 20, Bengals 13.
That was the kind of QB play that I haven’t seen from a member of the Cleveland Browns in SO FREAKIN’ LONG. If Derek Anderson can keep that up… well, I just don’t wanna say, ‘cause I’m afraid I’ll jinx it.
The Browns kickoff coverage had another nice stop on the next play, and Cincy had to start deep in their own end. On 2nd and 2 from their own 20, Palmer threw a pass to Glenn Holt, and Brodney Pool speared him right in the head. I don’t believe for a second that Pool meant to go head to head, since Holt was sliding down, and Pool actually gave himself a concussion (and did not return). But it did net a 15 yard Personal Foul, and helped the Bengals move right down the field.
And they didn’t need any help.
The Bengals moved the ball to the Cleveland 22, where Palmer found a wide WIDE open Chad Johnson for the easy EASY TD. How he was that wide open is a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in an enigma. Leigh Bodden fell down on the coverage, but can we get some Safety play please? Anyone? Please?
Now we started to get a sense for what this game had become. Bengals 21, Browns 20.
Johnson had promised to jump in the Dog Pound if he scored, but he was on the wrong side of the stadium, so he ran in circles, trying to decide if he would run the length of the field, or if he would jump into the stands in the nearby end zone (otherwise known as the Not Dog Pound), and was finally restrained by a teammate that was tired of seeing Ocho Cinco make an ass of himself. Ah, if only there were someone assigned to that duty on a more regular basis.
Cribbs took the kickoff and once again made Cincy feel his wrath, returning the ball 97 yards this time. Alas! Chaun Thompson was called for the illegal block, and the Browns had to start at their own 12 instead of the Bengals 4. No matter, Derek Anderson said. This only delays the inevitable.
The Browns appeared as if they might play it conservatively, but then Jamal Lewis blew through the line for a 31 yard run to the Cincy 48, which ran the clock down to 2 minutes. On 2nd and 2 from the Bengals 40, Anderson made a somewhat dangerous throw to Edwards amidst triple coverage. The ball was knocked up in the air. Braylon, who was laying on the ground, rolled over and grabbed it before it hit the turf for a spectacularly lucky gain of 15. It was the kind of catch you rarely see outside of backyard football.
On the next play, Anderson zipped the ball across the middle to a highly open Winslow for a beautiful 25 yard TD. I mean, that play was gorgeous. It was the Scarlett Johanssen of pass plays. Browns 27, Bengals 21.
“Over-under on the Browns scoring 50?” Franco queried.
“50 percent,” I replied.
With about a minute left in the half, Cincy got the ball back, and moved it to their 39. Palmer nailed Chad Johnson with a 25 yard pass, but Johnson did the Browns a huge favor (one of his few) and stayed in bounds, allowing the clock to run to triple 0 as the Bengals had no Time Outs remaining.
To a huge round of applause, the Browns trotted into the locker room.
Halftime: Browns 27, Bengals 21.
The Bengals were so scared of Josh Cribbs’ returns that they squibbed the kickoff, despite Cribbs not even being in the game (he wasn’t feeling too well and was getting an IV). So the Browns had the ball at their own 20 with a lead.
Unfortunately, during Halftime, Derek Anderson remembered that he was Derek Anderson, not Carson Palmer, and threw the ball right to Dexter Jackson – a Not Browns player – and we had our first INT.
“Over-under on the Browns blowing this game?” Franco asked.
“Will you please shut up already?” I replied.
Starting at the Browns 25, the Bengals ran Rudi Johnson right down Cleveland’s throats. It was suddenly 2nd and 2 at the Browns 3, and things weren’t looking so good. Now, the Browns D doesn’t stop the run well, and it doesn’t stop it often, but it stopped Rudi twice here, and forced Cincy to settle for a FG. This was a key stop, allowing the Browns to maintain their slim lead. Browns 27, Bengals 24.
Cribbs was still not in, but the Bengals squibbed it again anyway (damn, they must’ve been petrified).
Anderson righted his mental ship, and, on 3rd and 6, he nailed Edwards on a 19 yard pass along the sidelines. It was a great catch (the kind elite receivers make), and it withstood Cincinnati’s challenge. Lewis then ran for 10 (he had 73 at this point), and the Browns converted another 3rd down 2 plays later with a 10 yard catch by Winslow to the Bengals 34.
Well, Mr. Anderson, since you’re starting to feel it again, what shall you do now? How about a lovely (running out of synonyms now) pass to Braylon Edwards, as he had toasted Leon Hall and caught the ball in stride in the End Zone. This was just getting silly now. Browns 34, Bengals 24.
The Browns decided to shoot their momentum right in the spleen as they allowed the Bengals to return the kickoff all the way to the Cleveland 35. Four plays later, Palmer hit Chad Johnson on a slant for an all-too-easy TD. Yes, Chad, you’re in the Dog Pound end zone now. Gonna do it?
Yep. He ran up and jumped right up to the stands. Beer got dumped all over him. Someone threw a hot dog. Hands reached down to try and drag him in (I can only speculate what might’ve happened had that occurred – I’m sure it wouldn’t have been friendly). He got down and backed off, somehow surprised by his drenching and ensuing rude finger gestures.
What did you expect, dumbass? Browns 34, Bengals 31.
How would the Browns respond, you ask? It didn’t take long to find out. On the 1st play of the drive, Anderson handed the ball to Jamal Lewis, who made one cut, and was gone. No, that doesn’t really sum it up. He was GONE. Untouched, he blew by Bengals defenders on his way to a 66 yard TD. It was fantabulous to see that kind of speed out of the supposedly over-the-hill Lewis. I’m fairly sure I was floating at this point – and it wasn’t just the beer. Browns 41, Bengals 31.
A shootout isn’t a shootout unless both combatants are firing, and the Browns Defense saw no reason to slow down the bullets. Someone get the D on a conditioning program. Cincy took the kickoff and went quickly down the field, during which Rudi Johnson joined Jamal Lewis in the Over 100 Yards club. On 1st and Goal at the Browns 5, Palmer hit TJH for the easy (no, it’s not déjà vu) TD. Browns 41, Bengals 38.
With 49 seconds left in the quarter, Josh Cribbs returned (to the game and the kick), and it was evident as the Browns started the drive at their 42. The Browns ran two plays, and they headed for the 4th Quarter with a 3rd and 6.
End of 3rd: Browns 41, Bengals 38.
To start off the 4th, the 3rd down pass to Jurevicius was marked just short, bringing up a critical 4th down at midfield, which Romeo decided to go for. Why not? The Bengals hadn’t stopped us all day.
Well, they stopped us there, as Ron Chudzinski opted for the quick handoff to Laurence Vickers instead of pounding Lewis. The collective hearts of Cleveland Browns stadium fell. We’d been burned too many times before, and we always feel like there’s a torch nearby.
I still feel it was the right call to go for it. It’s not like punting would have slowed the Jungle Cats down.
The Browns D rarely decided to play in this game, but they did seem to rise up every time the Browns O was for some reason held without a TD, and they opted to shock the world by attempting to hold for a 3 and out. And they did, forcing an incompletion on 3rd and 2! In other news, a blizzard was spotted in Egypt.
The Browns started at their own 8. How long would it take them to go 92 yards? 5 plays. Lewis for 3, a pass to Steve Heiden for 27, Lewis for 14, a pass to Vickers for 11, and then a TD pass to Braylon for 37. Pow! Bang! Zoom! Browns 48, Bengals 38.
Let’s discuss the TD for a moment: Braylon Edwards was running up the left side of the field so wide open that Derek Anderson probably wondered if he was hallucinating. Perhaps overly eager, he threw the ball a little too far. Everyone waited to let loose a unified “AAAAAAWWWWWwwwwww!” of disappointment. However, Braylon just dove, made a helluva catch (the kind elite receivers make), and slid right into the End Zone. It was that kind of day. The kind where everything goes right. You know, the kind that is rarer than unicorns.
Cincy knew what was up now, and they needed to respond. Moving the ball rapidly, they reached midfield. There, they had some problems with stalling. Two incompletions, a Delay of Game penalty, and another incompletion on 3rd and 15 resulted in a Bengals punt. The crowd went nuts. That was TWO IN A ROW. Stop the presses.
With 8:29 left in the game, the Browns took over at their own 30. What’s the best thing to do when you want to run some clock? Why, run the ball of course. Here you go, Mr. Lewis. Why don’t you take that handoff and run for another 47 yards? Good. Thanks.
From there (the Cincy 23), Anderson hit Winslow down to the 5. First and Goal. Whaddaya do? Whaddaya do? You pound the ball in there with Lewis – that’s what you do. They did, down to the 1. But, on 3rd and 1, they opted for the rollout, which ended with Anderson throwing the ball away and bringing Phil Dawson onto the field. Browns 51, Bengals 38.
I don’t mean to nitpick… actually, yes I do. That’s not the Bears Defense in there. You’ve been running on them all day. Chances are really good you can pound that ball in on 3rd and Goal from the 1. And, if you don’t, you eat up the clock. The clock was not our friend at that point. Kill it. Kill it dead. A mistake to throw that ball at that juncture, in my mind.
The Bengals got the ball back, and again drove to midfield, and again stalled. However, with just over 4 minutes left and down by 13, the Cats were forced to go for it on 4th and 10. The crowd tried to set new decibel levels, knowing that a stop would effectively end the game. ‘Twas not to be. Palmer hit Chad Johnson for a 32 yard gain. Let the drama continue.
Five passes later, Palmer nailed Glenn Holt with a 7 yard TD, and here we go again. Browns 51, Bengals 45.
The Browns took over at their 34 with 3:39 left. On 1st down, Lewis ran for 2 yards, and Cincy took their 2nd Time Out. We in the stand debated about what to do.
“Pound the ball!”
“They know we’ll pound the ball! Catch them with a surprise throw!”
“If the ball is incomplete, then it stops the clock. Don’t stop the clock! They only have one Time Out left!”
“But it might be worth it!”
Well, the Browns must’ve felt the same, as Anderson rolled out and tossed the ball to a wide open Vickers. If Vickers caught the ball, he would probably still be running. (OK, he might be walking by now.) It was a medium-risk, high-reward call, and I don’t blame them for taking it. However, Vickers felt he had better things to do than catch the ball. The clock stopped.
(For the record, I was one of the proponents for pounding the ball.)
On 3rd and 8, Braylon caught a tough pass in traffic, the refs took mercy on our souls with the spot, and the Browns continued their drive at their 44 with 3:11 left. Cincy took their last Time Out.
The Browns took heed of my advice and pounded the ball with Lewis twice. That brought us to the 2 minute warning: 3rd and 4 at the Bengals 49. The debate raged again.
“Run the ball. Even if you don’t get the 1st down, you punt, and the Bengals have to go 80 to 90 yards in just over a minute with no Time Outs left.”
That argument seemed to win over most of the constituents.
And that’s what the Browns did. Dave Zastudil came out for his 2nd punt (yes, only TWO!), which he dribbled down to the Cincy 9. Hold onto your cookies, Browns fans.
1st and 10, Cincy 9 – Palmer made a deep pass down the middle, which was tipped and incomplete.
2nd and 10, Cincy 9 – 8 yard pass to Rudi Johnson. Out of bounds. 58 seconds left.
3rd and 2, Cincy 17 – 3 yard pass to Rudi Johnson. Out of bounds. 53 seconds left. “That’s right, march down the field 3 yards at a time!” I encouraged Marvin Lewis.
1st and 10, Cincy 20 – 30 yard pass to Chad Johnson right down the middle. D’Qwell Jackson and Sean Jones were both right there, but somehow Palmer threaded the needle, Jackson was a bit shaken up, and the Browns were charged an injury Time Out with 33 seconds left at the game and the Bengals poised like an evil vampire hawk at midfield.
“Over-under on…” Franco began.
“SHUT THE F*** UP!” the entire section screamed.
1st and 10, Midfield – 20 yard pass to TJH that was broken up nicely by Mike Adams (could very well have been intercepted.) 28 second left.
2nd and 10, Midfield – Palmer threw the ball 20 yards to the right towards Chad Johnson, but Leigh Bodden was in great position, caught the ball over his shoulder, dragged his feet, and the game was over.
Oh, they reviewed it, but it held up, Anderson came in, the Offense assumed the Victory Formation, and the Browns pulled out the highly improbable win.
Whew. Time for a celebration beer. Or 8.
Final: Browns 51, Bengals 45.
~~It wasn’t so much that the Browns secondary was getting reamed as Carson Palmer was incredibly sharp. Sometimes, a QB is in a zone and his throws are just too good.
However, there were several terrible, horrible, vomit-inducing broken coverages, and that feces needs to get fixed right now.
In particular, the play from our Safeties has been – to put it mildly - disappointing.
~~I focused on Kamerion Wimbley on several plays, and he kept trying to make his outside dip-the-shoulder move to get by the Left Tackle. It didn’t work at all, and killed his momentum.
Kam – that’s a nice move and all, but it won’t work if you use it every time. I expected a nice season from you, but you haven’t done bupkiss so far. Hell, I expected a good season for the whole D. All I can say is: 34 and 45.
Despite the win, the entire Defense needs a good public flogging.
~~What have we learned from this? Be more decisive during the preseason. In the QB battle du jour, neither Frye nor Anderson got enough reps with the starters, especially when Quinn was mixed in there, and, consequently, the Browns offense never achieved cohesion. It certainly affected Frye, who really let it get into his head when things went downhill in a hurry versus Pittsburgh, and it must’ve affected Anderson, who looked like a completely new QB with a week of solid starter reps under his belt.
Really, that Pittsburgh game was essentially our last preseason game. We still didn’t know who our QB was, the Offensive line hadn’t played together, Jamal Lewis was still an unknown quantity, our defense got tired, etc. etc. etc.
And if the Steelers beat down had any silver lining, it was that Anderson got plenty of reps with the starters against the starters.
We’re probably lucky the Browns got it together as quickly as they did. No thanks to the people making the personnel decisions in Berea.
~~Plenty of people across the country will be picking up Derek Anderson in their fantasy leagues. 5 TD’s is nothing to scoff at. But wait a moment, eager fantasy junkies! Let him show he can do it a second time in a row before you go dropping that all-important backup RB to get him.
~~And before we all get too excited, know that the Bengals are not a very good team.
“They beat the Ravens!” you protest.
Ah, but the Ravens aren’t that great either. Their offense is putrid. They almost had to go to OT at home against a Jets team that was throwing out a backup to make his first start ever.
As overrated as the Ravens are, they turned the ball over 6 times against Cincy and still had a chance to win it. So, again, the Bengals are not an elite team.
What we have shown is that we are at least as good as they are, and probably about as good as the Ravens. As the Bills can attest, the Steelers are – as of right now – the class of the AFC North.
~~Anyone else notice that Little Ben Roethlisberger keeps talking smack about Bill Cowher?
“Our relationship wasn't great,” he said back in April. Then, on NFL Total Access, he said with a chuckle about his new coach Mike Tomlin, “He really doesn't get rah-rah. As a player you like that. He's calm. You don't have to worry about getting yelled at or spit on or getting stuff thrown at you.”
Laugh it up, Furball.
Entice Cowher to come to Cleveland.
I’m not Bill Cowher’s biggest fan. I can hardly stand to look at him when he’s on the sidelines making stupid faces and convulsing like he’s having an epileptic fit. But there’s no doubting Cowher’s ability to coach, and there’s no arguing with his results.
I am of the mind that the Browns players (and coaches) now have an irrational fear of the Steelers. Pittsburgh probably has more talent than the Browns, but not to the extent where Cleveland should get blown out every time they play our inbred brethren to the east. Take the Steelers players, put them on another team, and the Browns would give them a game.
It’s in the players’ heads now. The game is lost before they even take the field. They don’t believe they can beat the Steelers. And the Steelers don’t believe they can be beaten by the Browns.
But if Cowher were to become the Head Coach in Cleveland…
~~I thought it was odd that one of the Bengals’ D Lineman, #94 Domata Peko, had a dead cat nailed to the back of his helmet. You’d think that would be against league uniform policies.
~~Welcome back to the 200 yard club, Jamal Lewis (actually 216). It’s the first time I’ve enjoyed seeing you do it.
~~So we’re 1-1. One game behind Pittsburgh, tied with the rest of the AFC North. Was this win a harbinger of things to come, or an albatross of false hope?
I don’t know yet, and neither do you, so I won’t even bother to speculate.
All this game really does is makes me a lot more excited for the Oakland game next week than I was for this one. That’s all I ask. Give me something to believe in.