It's been a tough five weeks for the Cleveland Browns. The team went into Week 6 with five losses on the season, with four of them coming on close, winnable games. However, the suddenly-slumping Cincinnati Bengals were set to come to town, presenting the Browns with a perfect opportunity to pick up their first victory of the year.
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden's 29th birthday was Sunday, and his team managed to get him quite the present—a 34-24 victory.
It wasn't the prettiest performance on offense or defense, but it got the job done. The offensive playcalling was far more balanced than we've seen in previous weeks out of head coach Pat Shurmur and coordinator Brad Childress, with 34 runs to 29 passes, allowing the players' talents to shine through without forcing anything.
On the day, Weeden went 17-of-29 for 231 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He targeted 10 different receivers, with eight pulling down their passes, and he was sacked just twice against a Bengals front seven that looked better-suited to stop the run than rush the passer.
That aforementioned run game did get a lot of looks—especially in the fourth quarter, when the Browns held a lead the entire time. And though it didn't seem like a terribly impressive ground effort, Cleveland did put up 111 yards from the run, with 37 for Trent Richardson on 14 carries before leaving the game with a rib injury, and 56 and a touchdown for Montario Hardesty on 15 touches.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon had yet another solid performance, with four targets and three catches for 99 yards and a 71-yard touchdown reception. Weeden's former Oklahoma State teammate Josh Cooper, who was activated from the practice squad on Friday to offset injuries, made a strong case for remaining on the active roster for the rest of the season, with two catches for 39 yards. Even Greg Little was less of a liability than usual, with three catches on five targets, for 18 yards—not a stellar performance, but nothing that cost the Browns scores or first downs.
Cleveland's defense had a great day against Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. Clearly, it had been studying how the Miami Dolphins were able to knock him off his game last week—it sacked him twice, forced him to fumble and picked him off three times, with one being a last-second desperation Hail Mary.
The return of cornerback Joe Haden sparked the entire Cleveland secondary. Though it did give up a great deal of yards to Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who had seven receptions for 135 yards and two touchdowns, it managed to otherwise shut down Cincinnati's receiving corps and force Dalton into making the wrong decisions.
The Bengals' second-most productive receiver was running back Cedric Peerman, with eight catches for 76 yards, and Cleveland held tight end Jermaine Gresham to just three receptions on the day. One of Gresham's receptions was a 55-yard touchdown catch; otherwise, they held him to just 13 yards on his other two grabs.
Clearly, there were still some big plays given up, but overall, the Browns did not allow the Bengals much when it came to their routine efforts. Cincinnati's run game was also contained, with just 76 total rushing yards, 62 belonging to BenJarvus Green-Ellis on 16 carries.
It should have been shocking to no one that the Browns came away with this win. The team as a whole has played far better than its record indicated, and it was simply a matter of time until a victory was theirs. Finally, defense, offense and special teams all came together to put forth a strong performance through all four quarters, and the result was a decisive win.
Whether it represents a pending turnaround of Cleveland's season, no one knows, but getting that first win was a major hurdle the Browns needed to clear, and they finally did. And they couldn't have picked a better time—Weeden's birthday.