The Cleveland Browns got off to a slow start in their opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, and they finished poorly as well, leading to a 27-17 defeat at home. Once again, for the 12th time in 13 seasons since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns are 0-1.
In between, the team played pretty well, overcoming an early 13-0 deficit set up by giving the Bengals excellent field position as a result of poor special teams play, to take a 14-13 halftime lead, which they extended to 17-13 early in the third quarter.
However, they couldn’t put their foot on the Bengals’ throat and allowed them to stay in the game with a less than aggressive attack, and then gave up fourth quarter touchdowns on a pair of blown defensive assignments.
The worrisome part of the 2011 edition of the Browns is their offensive line and it would be difficult to change that thought after watching this game. Early false start penalties, two by guard Shawn Lauvao put Cleveland in long yardage situations in the first quarter, and a horrible first punt by Richmond McGee gave Cincy great field position on their first three drives resulting in a 13-0 lead.
Josh Cribbs changed the momentum with a 51 yard kickoff return after that lead, and four plays later, the Browns were on the scoreboard after a 34 yard TD from Colt McCoy to TE Benjamin Watson.
From then until the middle of the fourth quarter, Cleveland controlled the football game, forcing punts on seven consecutive Cincinnati possessions.
Cleveland scored on its next possession on a 2 yard pass from McCoy to TE Evan Moore, but managed only one field goal the rest of the game. That field goal came the first time the Browns had the ball after the half, meaning Cleveland had scored on three of their last four possessions.
At that point, things were looking very good for new coach Pat Shurmur to get his first win as an NFL head coach.
The Browns tried to put the game away in the middle of the third quarter after stopping the Bengals. A pass interference call gave Cleveland a first down on the Cincinnati 33, but a reverse to Cribbs lost three yards on first down, and McCoy was sacked on third down to force a punt. That would be the closest the Browns would come to scoring for the rest of the game.
Except maybe for a punt late in the fourth quarter, with the Bengals leading 20-17. Cribbs looked like he had some daylight on the return, but in blocking his man, rookie Greg Little ran into Cribbs, essentially tackling him on the CLE 44. Without that incident, who knows how long the former Kent State product would have run.
The Bengals out gained the Browns on the ground, 139 yards to 83, but 39 for Cincinnati came on the game clinching run by Cedric Benson, so really the defense controlled the run.
Cleveland didn’t get their ground game going, only attempting 26 runs while throwing the ball 40 times. This despite having the lead for much of the game from the middle of the 2nd quarter until about five minutes left.
McCoy was only sacked twice, but he was hurried throughout, probably causing shorter completions that Shurmur wanted in his version of the west coast attack.
On the flip side, the Browns had four sacks, but didn’t put consistent pressure on Bengal QB’s Andy Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski. It was an uneven effort to say the least.
Joe Haden showed last year was no fluke, breaking up several passes, and even though he was probably the victim on the pass to A. J. Green that gave the Bengals the lead, he wasn’t the only Cleveland player unprepared for the start of the play.
It is no doubt disappointing to the players and the fans that the Browns lost this football game. It was indeed winnable, but too many mistakes spelled defeat.
Now, it’s on the Indianapolis to take on the Peyton Manning-less Colts, who were spanked by Houston today. Without question, they will be hungry for a win.
Shurmur needs to clean up the mistakes and get the offensive line playing better. Without improvement in that area, the new offense may not have a chance to succeed.