After an abysmal start, the Browns came back to take a four-point lead on Cincinnati in to the fourth quarter. Late in the fourth, Bengals quarterback Bruce Gradkowski fooled everyone—including the cameraman—and threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to rookie A.J. Green to put the Bengals up by three, a lead they would not relinquish.
We take a look in to the good and bad we learned from the Browns in this Week 1 matchup.
Haden was extremely impressive in his 2011 debut.
Covering standout rookie receiver A.J. Green, Haden was all over the field swatting balls and making hits. Up until the fluke play by the Bengals that led to Green's touchdown, Haden had completely shut him down.
If Haden continues to play this way against the opposing No. 1 receiver each and every week, he could be a definite Pro Bowl candidate.
Browns punter Richmond McGee was awful this afternoon.
In his defense, it did appear that he may have injured his leg on his last punt of the game, but prior to that instance, there is no excuse for his performance.
Every ball he hit seemed to wobble short and out of bounds, and caused a great amount of displeasure for the Browns' defense, as the Bengals almost always had great field position.
McGee also averaged 31.6 yards a punt—that is absolutely horrible.
He has to improve, or the Browns need to be searching for a new punter—ASAP.
It's arguable that the major reason the Browns lost this game today was because of penalties.
In the first quarter, it seemed as if the "dirty laundry" was hitting the field each and every play, signaling a Browns penalty.
Cleveland had a total of 11 penalties for 72 yards, which cost them a great amount of field position in the first quarter and allowed the Bengals to score 10 early points.
The Browns' defense was playing well enough to hold Cincinnati had they been in their own territory. Instead, the Browns were backed up, and paired with the horrible kicking of Richmond McGee, they couldn't pin the Bengals back anywhere.
Penalties were a big problem for the Browns in this game, and hopefully this game only.
The Browns' offensive line was definitely not good this afternoon.
Oniel Cousins started at the right tackle position, with Shaw Lauvao at right guard and Jason Pinkston at left guard, all of whom did not start for the Browns last season.
With Tony Pashos out with an injury at right tackle, the Browns need to find someone who is going to hold some ground. Cousins struggled immensely, and his backup, Artis Hicks, had problems as well. Hopefully Pashos can get back soon so there is some sort of consistency at that position.
Lauvao didn't play well either, but the Browns' options at right guard are running thin, so he's just going to have to do all he can to improve in the upcoming weeks.
Pinkston is going to have to step up. Eric Steinbach was an anchor on the left side of the line and was a big factor in the Browns' offensive success last season. Pinkston, although he is a rookie, is going to have to mature and play at a high level the rest of the season, or the Browns' offense is going to continue to struggle.
The offensive line is banged up right now, but the backups need to play well and give Colt at least some time to throw, because today it looked like he was constantly pressured with no time to throw.
I've said it a thousand times, and I'll say it again: Evan Moore and Ben Watson are going to be the two biggest keys to the Browns' offense this season, and they proved it today.
Watson had three receptions for 45 yards, while Moore had three receptions for 35 yards, meaning the two-headed tight end monster finished with six catches for 80 yards on the day.
Both tight ends had touchdown catches—Watson on a beautiful deep throw up the middle by McCoy, Moore on a goal-line slant—and both helped the offensive immensely.
They will continue to put up numbers, perform at a high level and could be a huge bright spot for the Browns this season.
Colt McCoy's performance today was nothing more than middle of the road, but you can't blame it all on him.
McCoy was able to move around well and made plays with his feet that helped the Browns move the chains a couple of times, but with the offensive line playing that poorly, it was hard for McCoy to have any pocket presence whatsoever.
The Bengals were smart and blitzed a good amount because they knew the Browns' line couldn't handle the heat. McCoy was forced to make quick throws and take sacks because of the immense Bengals rush.
When McCoy was able to throw, he made good decisions and made pretty accurate passes overall. He suffered from a few drops and tipped balls, even an errant throw from time to time, but for the most part, I felt Colt was doing the best he could with what he was given from the offensive line.
His completion percentage was a little low for my liking, but again, a lot of external and uncontrollable factors there.
What started off as a poor effort from the Browns' line turned in to a decent afternoon as a whole.
They were able to get enough pressure on rookie Andy Dalton to the point where they eventually knocked him out of the game. Even when Gradkowski came in, I thought they did an excellent job of putting pressure on him.
The line was also able to slow down the Bengals' run game until Benson broke the huge touchdown run to end the game.
With young and inexperienced players, I think the line put on a performance that they can grow on as the season continues.
After missing essentially the entire preseason, Mohamed Massaquoi had a pretty good season debut.
With three receptions for 77 yards, Massaquoi impressed me, as he was able to get open—especially with the 56-yard reception to put the Browns inside the 10-yard line, setting up a Browns touchdown to Evan Moore.
Massaquoi looked promising, but the rest of the receivers didn't do much of anything at all.
Although he was only able to rush for 57 yards, Peyton Hillis showed flashes of 2010 in his performance today.
With an offensive line that had major issues, Hillis was able to play decently with the conditions he was given.
He looked good running on the perimeter, and often showed his strength with various stiff arms and ability to run over defenders. Hillis definitely will be able to repeat 2010 if the offensive line improves because he played well enough with a bad one.
The new kickoff rule has cost kick returners in the NFL the ability to return a majority of kicks.
Even with this rule though, Cribbs looked like his old self today.
Returning the ball from nine yards back in the end zone, Cribbs was able to spark the Browns' offense after falling down 10-0 with a 51-yard return that set the Browns up near midfield and eventually led to a score.
Cribbs almost took a punt back to the house as well, but was unintentionally blocked by his own teammate, receiver Greg Little, who was laying a huge block on Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber.
Cribbs' impact was something the Browns missed last season, and with the new kickoff rule in place, Browns fans were thinking that the end of Cribb's returning days were near.
But his performance today proved that Cribbs is still the most exciting player on the Browns and a special teams Pro Bowler.
Although Mohamed Massaquoi was impressive today, we can't really say the same thing for any of the other receivers.
Greg Little had one nice catch for a first down, but other than that, the Browns' wide receivers had no impact on the offense whatsoever.
Josh Cribbs was shut down, Brian Robiskie was shut down and, for the most part, Little was shut down, leaving Massaquoi as the only Brown with any significant impact at the receiver slot.
If the Browns want to move the ball, the receivers are going to have to learn to get open. Colt McCoy can get them the ball, that's not the issue.
The issue is that if the receivers have no ability to get open, Colt won't be able to get them the ball.
Carlton Mitchell could provide some help in this area when he returns from injury, but the Browns still need to improve on the receiving front.
This was not a good way to open the season for the Browns.
First of all, a Week 1 loss was a brutal result after the Browns had the lead in the fourth quarter.
The way in which they lost, however, was a much bigger problem.
In the first quarter, when they went down 10-0, they didn't look like they belonged in the NFL. They were undisciplined, unable to complete their assignments and just showed an overall lack of organization or enthusiasm.
The defense looked bad, the offense looked worse and special teams was simply nonexistent, thanks in most parts to Richmond McGee. Luckily, as the second quarter came along, the Browns settled down a bit and were able to play the way we expected them to.
Colt was accurate and efficient, and the defense was stepping up and making stops for three-and-outs. At 17-13, the Browns were dominating the game until Bruce Gradkowski took advantage of a Browns misstep and eventually won the game for the Bengals.
I believe the majority of Browns fans expected a victory today, myself included, and that's where the true problem lies. Cleveland was expected to win today and was beat by a much less experienced and less talented team, which means there are a lot of underlying problems that need to be solved—and solved quickly—so the Browns can still salvage something out of this season.
If they want to win football games, the Browns are going to have to improve on the offensive line first and foremost. A good O-line will allow for a better Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis, and the ability to put more points on the board.
The defense was killed by field position and the Browns' special teams today, but they need to improve as well, as they allowed 27 points to Andy Dalton, Bruce Gradkowski and Cedric Benson.
I hate to say that today was a sign of things to come this season for the Browns, because I don't believe that is the case at all.
But if things don't start improving by next week, it could be another long year for Browns fans.