After the first quarter of today’s game against Cincinnati, the Cleveland Browns looked like a team bound for the post-season.
They dominated the Bengals. Andy Dalton threw two interceptions to Joe Haden, one resulting in a touchdown, the first pick six of his career. The Bengals couldn’t run the ball either, and it appeared the Browns were going to get a huge win on the road and put themselves in great shape for an AFC North division crown.
Cleveland was even running the football well, as Chris Ogbonnaya had a 43 yard run, the longest of the year by a Cleveland running back and led 13-0. The era of good feeling ended on the Browns last play of the first quarter, when Jason Campbell was picked off by James Harrison.
Then came the nightmare of the second quarter and all of that went up in smoke as the Bengals scored 31 points in the stanza, and without any real offense either.
Dalton hit TE Jermaine Gresham on Cincy’s first play of the quarter to cut Cleveland’s lead to 13-7.
After a Spencer Lanning punt that was deflected giving the Bengals the ball on the Browns 38, it took five plays, one a flea flicker pass from Mohamed Sanu to Gio Bernard, to take the lead 14-13.
The momentum officially shifted.
On the subsequent drive, the Browns’ offensive line fell apart as Campbell was sacked and TE Jordan Cameron picked up a holding penalty.
The Browns started to throw the ball almost exclusively underneath, and did pick up two first downs the next time they had the ball, but Lanning’s next punt was blocked and run in for a touchdown. It was now 21-13 Cincinnati.
After another holding penalty, it took two plays for the Bengals defense to strike, forcing an Ogbonnaya fumble after a reception and Vontaze Burfict returned it for another score and the Bengals scored 28 unanswered points with their offense running just 10 plays.
And even though they were down just two scores and there was still more than a half to play, and the conditions weren’t exactly ideal, Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner decided to stop the running game almost completely.
They ran just once more in the first half, and the passes thrown were mostly of the checkdown variety.
The punting unit capped off a dreadful quarter by allowing a 27 yard return by Adam Jones to set up a Mike Nugent field goal. The 13-0 lead at the quarter had been turned into a 31-13 deficit.
At that point, Cincinnati had demonstrated no ability to move the ball against the Cleveland defense, yet they led by 18 points.
That fact made it very curious when Chudzinski went for it on 4th and 5 at the CIN34 on the Browns’ first series of the second half. He could have pinned the Bengals back with plenty of time.
He got away with it because Campbell hit Josh Gordon for a 74 yard touchdown pass on the next possession, closing the gap to 31-20.
Chudzinski’s gambling tendency got the best of him early in the fourth quarter, as he went for it on 4th and 3 at the Browns’ 27 with almost 11 minutes left in the game. The Browns were down 18 at the time, and that quickly became 21 as Nugent hit another field goal that didn’t need any gain by the Cincinnati offense.
The Bengals gained just 224 yards on the game and caused two turnovers. Horrible play by the punt block team (resulting in 14 points) and a huge fumble recovery which put another seven points on the board won this game for Cincinnati.
The coaching staff (once again) put their quarterback in a horrible situation by ignoring the running game and when they did run it was only on first down. There was no creativity. This on a day the Browns averaged five yards per carry.
In an ironic twist, former Brown Bobby Rainey, cut a few weeks ago by Cleveland, gained 160 yards for Tampa Bay today.
Maybe the offensive line simply doesn’t block for the run very well.
Despite the loss, the Browns are still very much in the playoff chase, just a game back for the second wild card spot, just a game behind the Dolphins and Jets.
A win next week against the Steelers at home and then against Jacksonville will put the Browns at 6-6 and right in the thick of it.
As long as the special teams improve and the coaching staff stays with the running game.