Anybody else doubt that things are different for the Cleveland Browns under Mike Pettine?
The Browns broke their losing streak against divisional foes on the road with a dominating performance at Paul Brown Stadium, winning 24-3 over the Bengals to move into a first place tie with the Steelers at 6-3.
It’s the most wins for Cleveland since 2007 when they went 10-6.
Pettine likes to use the expression “play like a Brown”, and tonight his entire team did just that. They played tough defense, ran the ball effectively, and avoided mistakes.
First, the running game returned for Kyle Shanahan’s offense as the three-headed monster of Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell, and Ben Tate combined for 170 yards on the ground with each scoring a touchdown. West was the feature back, getting 94 yards on 26 carries. And Crowell reemerged to give the offense a boost in the second quarter.
Brian Hoyer was incredibly efficient, completing 15 of his 23 throws for 198 yards, with Miles Austin being the primary target. Austin caught five throws for 48 yards.
On a windy night, Shanahan obviously wanted to keep the ball on the ground, and his offensive line and backs didn’t let him down.
The offense played efficiently. The defense was dominant.
In fact, it was the kind of defense fans thought they were going to see from the opening game, as they held Cincinnati to just a measly 165 yards in total offense, and QB Andy Dalton was particularly dreadful, completing only 10 of 33 passes for just 86 yards. He compounded that by throwing three interceptions, including one on the Bengals’ first drive, which was picked off by Craig Robertson.
Joe Haden was criticized early in the season when he struggled a little bit, but tonight, he took All Pro wide receiver A.J. Green completely out of the game, as Green caught only three passes for 23 yards.
Another player who gets called out when beaten on big plays, Buster Skrine, picked off two passes. Truth be told, Skrine is a solid NFL cornerback and is excellent in the slot.
Besides the interceptions, Dalton was also sacked twice on successive plays by DE Desmond Bryant in the third quarter.
And the Cincinnati running game wasn’t a factor either, getting just 86 yards on 22 carries, an average of less than four yards per carry. It was by far the Browns best performance against the running game all season.
Cleveland dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for 36 minutes, partially because of the success of the running game, but also because Jim O’Neil’s defense held Cincy to just three of 17 on third down conversions.
In short, the Browns has an answer for everything that Cincinnati threw at them.
Punter Kevin Huber was perhaps the busiest Bengal, having to kick the ball away to Cleveland eight times.
The win ensures that Cleveland will be playing meaningful football in November and should be in the mix for an extended period. That, of course, should end any thought of playing Johnny Manziel unless Hoyer is injured.
The Browns have won two divisional games in dominating fashion and the two games they lost were on field goals on the last play of the game. In order to be a playoff team, you have to be competitive within the AFC North.
Right now, the Cleveland Browns have shown the rest of the teams in the division they can no longer be taken lightly. And they showed the nation they are no longer the doormats of the NFL.