Sunday, September 28, 2008

Browns Outlast Bungling Bengals, 20-12

It was not the irresistible force meeting the immovable object but something had to give as the 0-3 Cleveland Browns faced off against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. The Browns got an early surprise as Bengals’ starting quarterback Carson Palmer was made inactive due to a sore elbow after guaranteeing he would play. This thrust inexperienced back up Ryan Fitzpatrick into the spotlight and the Browns took advantage.

The Bengals started the game with a three and out and the maligned Browns’ offense took advantage. The Browns came out of the gate trying to establish the run. Seven straight times as a matter of fact. But after the fifth run, they faced a 2nd and 1 at the Cincinnati 5 and proceed to run for 0 and -2 yards. A Phil Dawson field goal made it 3-0 Cleveland.

After another Bengals three and out, the Browns drove into Cincinnati territory but stalled. They ate up over five minutes on the clock on 11 plays, but facing 4th and 13 at the Bengal 40, Romeo Crennel opted for a Phil Dawson pooch punt that pinned the Bengals at their own 7 yard line.

The Bengals then put together a 13 play, 68 yard drive of their own. Cincinnati was able to find an effective balance of Chris Perry runs and short passes to move down the field. The Browns helped the Bengals’ cause by lining up offside twice but the key to the drive was Ryan Fitzpatrick’s scrambling ability. Fitzpatrick converted two third downs by scrambling up the middle to sustain the drive long enough to allow Shayne Graham to knot the score at 3 wit a 40 yard field goal.

The Browns intercepted Fitzpatrick on the ensuing drive when he overthrew Reggie Kelly and Mike Adams hauled in the misfire. The Browns then marched to the Cincinnati 45 where they faced a 4th and 1 with just over three minutes left in the half. Derek Anderson faced pressure but had time to throw, however he rushed and his pass bounced at the feet of a wide open Steve Heiden.

Fitzpatrick was intercepted again once the Bengals took over on downs, this time by Eric Wright. Wright was careless on the return, however, and Chris Perry forced a fumbled that Chad Johnson recovered and the Bengals regained possession. The regrouped at the Browns’ 45 and moved the ball just enough to allow Graham to knock in another field goal, from 45 yards, for a 6-3 halftime lead.

At halftime Anderson’s stat line stood at 4-10 for 27 yards and most observers figured it was Brady Quinn time in the Queen City. But Crennel though otherwise and Anderson started the third quarter and promptly threw an interception on the opening drive, but still no Quinn. The offense then went three and out and still no Quinn.

With a little less than five minutes left in the third quarter, trailing 6-3, Crennel’s decision finally bore fruit as Anderson led the Browns on a 13 play, 80 yard drive that ended in a 4 yard touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards for a 10-6 Browns advantage. Anderson went 6-7 for 47 yards on the drive with three of the receptions by Kellen Winslow.

Chris Perry fumbled on Cincinnati’s next possession after being stripped by Kamerion Wimbley. Mike Adams once again was in position to make a play as he recovered the ball on the Bengals’ 24. Anderson responded with a perfect seam route to Winslow for 1st and Goal. Jamal Lewis then dove in from one yard out to put the Browns up 17-6.

The surprisingly stout Browns’ defense became vulnerable on the nest drive as Fitzpatrick drove the Bengals down the field with relative ease. The eight play drive, all passes, covered 59 yards in barely three minutes and culminated in Johnson hauling in a Fitzpatrick toss for six points. The Bengals were unable to complete the two point conversion and were left trailing, 17-12.

The Browns drove to the Cincinnati 36 with 3:07 left in the game, facing a 4th and 5 up by five points. But Crennel chose not to go for the field goal to make the margin eight and Dave Zastudil’s punt bounded into the endzone for a touchback.

But this time Crennel’s field goal decision paid off as rookie Alex Hall sack-stripped Fitzpatrick and Corey Williams recovered for the Browns on the Bengals’ 19. Three Jamal Lewis runs and a Phil Dawson field goal later it was 20-12 Browns, with 37 second left. Terry Cousin intercepted Fitzpatrick to seal the game for the Browns and send the Bengals to 0-4.

The Browns’ victory evened the “Battle of Ohio” at 35 wins apiece.

The Browns may have avoided the 0-4 start themselves, but until the later portions of the third quarter it was not pretty. Anderson did rebound from the atrocious first half but still only finished 15-24 for 124 yards with the one touchdown and one interception. Edwards finished with with three catches for 22 yards and a touchdown but had another costly penalty, this time a 15 yard late hit personal foul.

The play calling of Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski was more run heavy as many have wanted, but it was obvious he was coddling Anderson’s fragile psyche. Winslow did not catch a pass until the second half but once he got involved the offense seemed to gel. It was also good to see both back-up running backs, Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison, get some touched as they kept Lewis fresh and were effective as changes of pace.

On defense, the Browns were able to focus on stopping the run and making Fitzpatrick try and beat them due to Palmer’s absence. It proved effective but one has to wonder if Palmer would have been able to do what Fitzpatrick could not. The three interceptions were more due to Fitzpatrick’s inexperience than the Browns intimidating defense.

The Browns pass rush was once again spotty but it was good to see Wimbley actually have an effect on the game after being MIA for the first three weeks. Hall continues to impress as he notched his second sack is as many games and is extremely more active then aging veteran Willie McGinest.

So the Browns head into their bye week at 1-3 with two weeks to prepare for their close up on Monday Night Football. The New York Giants are the opponent, just like in pre-season, and we all know how that turned out as the G-Men sent the Browns into a tailspin from which they still may not have recovered.

Cleveland Browns Stadium is the venue this time, and hopefully that will prove as a comfort zone for the team. Questions are still abound about Crennel’s coaching ability, Anderson’s qualifications as a starting NFL quarterback and the overall quality of the Browns themselves. So while 1-3 may be disappointing and underachieving for the Browns and their fans it is better than the alternative that the Cincinnati Bengals are facing.

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