Thank God for football uniforms. If it weren’t for the stylistic differences in the uniforms worn by the teams playing Sunday in Cincinnati, we wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart. Indeed, and unfortunately for fans of the Browns and Bengals, the teams mirrored each other in a sometimes laughable, occasionally pathetic, display of inept offense, turnovers, penalties, and sloppy miscues.
Yet it was the Browns who were the “least bad” of the two and were able to grind out their first victory of the season in a 20-12 win over Cincinnati, who dropped to a hilarious 0-4.
Although I began to curse at CBS commentator Rich Gannon through the TV after he said “...and this is why these teams are 0-3” for the 73rd time, I also realized he was speaking the truth. It didn’t help matters that Derek Anderson got off to his obligatory “slow start” and was just 4-for-9 in the first half for 27 yards.
In fact, the offense generated only three points, thanks to a seven-play drive on their first possession, during which the Browns ran the ball each time. It was clear that Derek Anderson’s job on this day would be to simply manage the game, or as a cynic might say, to not screw it up.
With the Browns trailing 6-3 coming out of the locker room at halftime, the gameplan shifted to Anderson being called upon to make plays. On the first play of the first drive in the third quarter, Derek Anderson delivered a laser to Syndrick Steptoe, who hauled it in beautifully for a 17-yard gain. (Marvin Lewis challenged the play, but the ruling was upheld. Romeo-haters: You think Crennel is bad? How about Marvin Lewis’ game management? But I digress.)
Horrifically, with the Browns facing with their first third down of the half, Anderson made an awful throw that was easily intercepted by the Bengals.
Faster than you can say 0-4, Brady Quinn’s name crossed everyone’s mind. After another drive stalled out (thanks in part to a Braylon Edwards penalty which negated a first down, for the second week in a row), the Browns punted and most fans wanted, if not expected, the BQ Era to begin.
But after the defense made yet another stop, Romeo Crennel, realizing it was still just a 6-3 game, made the bold decision to stick with DA. The collective sigh (with a few choice four-letter words mixed in) was heard throughout Browns Nation.
Perhaps Anderson heard everyone’s sigh, or envisioned his future Sundays on the bench with a visor on. Or maybe he simply refused to lose. Whatever the case, Anderson proceeded to lead the Browns on a masterful 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a sweet one-handed TD catch by Edwards.
On the drive, DA was an impressive 6-for-7 for 46 yards and also picked up a first down on an 11-yard scramble.
It was the drive Browns fans had been waiting for all year: efficient clock management, precision passing, and effective running in a key situation in the game. The Browns needed to step up and take control of the game, and led by Anderson, they did.
The Browns became completely re-energized. On the ensuing drive, the defense forced a crucial turnover deep in Bengals territory. A 20-yard first-down strike from DA to Kellen Winslow set up another Browns touchdown, this one coming on a one-yard plunge by Jamal Lewis.
With the score 17-6, the Browns never looked back. The defense forced two more turnovers and thwarted any thoughts of a Cincinnati comeback.
Of course, skeptics will have you believe that the Browns’ win was of a lesser variety because they beat an already-bad Bengals team, who were without their star QB Carson Palmer. This is silly.
First off, everyone should agree that any win, regardless of the opponent, is huge. I’ll agree that the game would probably have been different with Palmer at the helm. However, the players played and the coaches coached according to the circumstances that they were dealt and made the most of the opportunity.
And why is everyone so quick to make excuses for Cincinnati? Injuries are a part of the game, as any Browns fan will certainly tell you. Ok, maybe Cincy would have scored more points with Palmer. But would the Browns' defense have met the challenge if only they had Sean Jones, Willie McGinest, and Robaire Smith in the lineup?
And might not the Browns have scored more points themselves with Dante Stallworth running through the Bengals’ secondary? The Browns played a game they desperately needed to have, and they won. Period.
Hopefully, the Browns and their fans will be able to look back on this game as a turning point in a season that is far from over. The vote of confidence from Romeo to DA, along with the clutch plays made on both sides of the ball, are stepping stones for this fragile team, still shell-shocked from their disastrous 0-3 start.
Obviously, there are things they will need to improve upon. Penalties, poor tackling, and putting the ball on the ground are all things that must be eliminated if the Browns are to make anything of the season.
But with a bye week forthcoming, the Browns have a fabulous opportunity to get healthy, re-focus, and prepare for the team’s first Monday Night Football game in years, against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
After having been embarrassed by the Giants in a nationally-televised preseason game, they also have a little extra motivation. Fair-weather Browns fans, get back on the bandwagon before it’s full!