At halftime, things looked pretty good for the Cleveland Browns. They were leading 17-7 on the road, and they were moving the football on offense pretty easily.
Unfortunately for Pat Shurmur, there were still 15 minutes to play and the Cincinnati Bengals made adjustments defensively and made enough plays on offense to defeat the Browns 23-20.
The biggest play of the game came with a little over tw0 minutes remaining when Bengal QB Andy Dalton hit rookie WR A.J. Green for 51 yards to the Cleveland 3. Green made a tremendous leaping catch over CB Joe Haden as Dalton threw it just before getting leveled by DT Ahtyba Rubin.
The Browns were that close to getting the ball back with a chance to win or at the very least, force overtime.
Meanwhile, Cleveland rookie wideout Greg Little, scored a touchdown, but dropped several passes including ones on the last two drives for the Browns.
RB Peyton Hillis made a surprise return and paced a ground attack that netted 4.5 yards per carry. However, it seemed as though Shurmur was too quick to go away from the run in the second half. Cleveland had several 2nd and short situations after first down carries by Hillis, but went to the passing game rather than batter the Cincinnati defense with the run.
Sensing the Browns’ willingness to put the ball in the air, the Bengals were able to pressure McCoy with just four defensive linemen, forcing the Cleveland QB into hurried, inaccurate throws.
McCoy would up under 50% for the game, hitting just 16 of 34 throws for 151 yards with 2 touchdowns and a bad interception which cost Cleveland three points. 102 of the yards came in the first half.
This is not to stick up for the young quarterback or right him off as nothing more than a journeyman, but he needs an offense clicking on all cylinders to be effective at this time.
The stat that stands out the most in this contest was the number of passing yards and the number of yards per passing play. The Bengals threw for 257 yards, an average of 7.8 per pass. The Browns gained 140 yards through the air, getting just half of Cincy’s total, 3.9 yards per play.
And the biggest gains by the Bengals were passes thrown up in the air by Dalton with receivers making plays.
The second touchdown drive by Cincinnati featured two such plays, a 35-yard throw to Green and the 22-yard pass to TE Jermaine Gresham which resulted in the score. Neither play was any complex pattern, it was a matter of throwing the ball in the air and having receivers who can go get it.
The same was true on the biggest play of the game, which set up the winning field goal.
Right now, the Browns don’t have anyone like that on their roster. And today, the contrast between Green and Little was astounding. This isn’t to say Little won’t be a very good NFL receiver. He just isn’t a play maker at this point.
And what Browns game would be complete without a special teams gaffe.
Long snapper Ryan Pontbriand rolled another snap back to Brad Maynard on Phil Dawson’s attempt for a 55-yard kick which would have given Cleveland the lead with under two minutes to go.
Whether the attempt was ill-advised or not, Shurmur might have been better off punting into the wind and making the Bengals drive a long field to win the game, the poor snapping has been a recurring thing all season. A former Pro Bowl snapper, Pontbriand is not having a good year.
The Browns don’t have enough talent to overcome what is becoming a weekly special teams problem. And they aren’t getting any big plays from this unit either.
Still, progress was shown today. But a loss is still a loss, and the Browns are now sitting at 4-7 with the Ravens and Steelers on the slate the next two games. Real progress is shown in the win column.