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 backup 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 five-yard line and proceed to run for zero 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 Bengals' 40, Romeo Crennel opted for a Phil Dawson pooch punt that pinned the Bengals at their own seven-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 three with 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 he had time to throw; however, he was 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.
They regrouped at the Browns’ 45 and moved the ball just enough to allow Graham to knock in another field goal, this one 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 four-yard touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards for a 10-6 Browns advantage. Anderson went 6-for-7 for 47 yards on the drive, with three of the receptions by Kellen Winslow.
Chris Perry fumbled on Cincinnati’s next possession, getting 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 next 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 end zone 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 he still only finished 15-for-24 for 124 yards with the one touchdown and one interception.
Edwards finished 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 backup running backs, Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison, get some touches, 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. 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 in as many games and is extremely more active than 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 preseason, 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 the Cincinnati Bengals were facing.