The Cleveland Browns played the Cincinnati Bengals for first place last night and one team played like it mattered: Your beloved Browns, who won 24-3, moving into a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers for first place in the AFC North.
Cincinnati was playing at home, but it seemed like they were a million miles away from this one, as the Browns kept them out of the end zone, the Bengals only score coming after a – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – Browns fumble on a punt return that put Cincinnati at the Browns 32, and then a pass interference penalty that put the Bengals at the Browns 19.
Of course, despite the Browns being 6-3 and in first place in November, despite them dominating the team that was in first place, the question on sports-talk radio was: Are the Browns that good or the Bengals that bad? Going into the game, I said that the Browns would lose ugly, 23-13. And it’s time that Browns fans accept the facts: This team is pretty good.
We have watched them collapse when it’s mattered, lived through them getting our hopes up and then crumbling, and so it’s hard for us to accept them playing well and being a good team. But, folks, follow my lead on this: Believe. That’s what last night’s win helped me to do.
The Browns playing a big game against the first-place team in front of a national audience on a short week? How could this end any way except the Browns getting run into the ground?! It’s the perfect ingredients for a huge letdown. Instead, they dominated the opposition.
Phil Taylor clogged the middle line, and the other defensive lineman helped shut down the Bengals running game, and chased after Andy Dalton, who was just terrible. The defensive backs had the Bengals wide receivers shut down. AJ Green has meaningless with Joe Haden draped all over him. I think we can all relax on Haden; our all-pro corner is back to his old self.
On the offensive side, all three running backs got into the end zone. Hoyer looked as good as he ever has, and that was without Andrew Hawkins playing. You have to play with the hand you’re dealt, but I can’t help but dream of them playing at full strength, with their three pro-bowlers – Jordan Cameron, Alex Mack, and Josh Gordon – and Hawkins. I stop myself short of adding Sammy Watkins to that dream. I don’t know whether I would get out-of-my-mind excited or sit down and cry that we passed on him.
Yes, anywhere between 2008 and 2013, the Browns would have choked this game away, I am sure of it. But they didn’t. They showed up and they showed up big. The kept Cincinnati’s offense to under 200 yards. They held the ball for 11 minutes more than the Bengals. Hoyer completed 65% of his passes. The Browns had 170 yards on the ground, while only surrendering 86 yards, 55 of those yards going to Jeremy Hill, who, on Sunday, ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Speaking of Hill, let me say something before I wrap up this love fest: According to ESPN, Hill talked after the game about how the Browns were worse than he thought and how they did “nothing special” in the game. I get it. He’s a hot-headed rookie. At one point on Thursday night, he came off the field and threw his helmet like 10 yards.
But when you can only get 55 yards rushing and you lost a fumble and your team got their butts handed to them in an important game in front of everyone, maybe it’s best to just shut up.
If the Browns are terrible, and you couldn’t run on them, what does that say about how bad you are?! Don’t talk about the next game and what you’re going to do; you should have done something this game. Another Bengals thought to make threats: Bengals wide receiver Greg Little.
Little said to reporters before this game how he was going to make the Browns pay for releasing him, how this was personal, complaining that Mike Pettine didn’t speak to him after becoming the Browns head coach. Yeah, he managed 1 catch for 8 yards after the game was all but over. He also got hit with a 15-yard personal foul penalty. For those scoring, that’s a net of minus 7 yards.
Hey, Little, you were terrible at catching the football when you were here. You got cut by the Oakland Raiders after you got cut by the Browns. You have the highest drop percentage in the NFL since 2011. Maybe you should take your performance personal and work on being a better wide receiver.
It’s too bad jerks like these two have to take away from the feel-good story of the season, the love between Bengal’s Devon Stills and his 4-year old daughter Leah, who has stage-4 cancer. Owner Mike Brown had the Bengals re-signed Stills the day after cutting him so that the he could pay for his daughter’s cancer treatments. Look, I’m not your Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul kind of person, but what an amazing story.
I’ll wrap this rambling mess up to say to Browns fans that you can stop holding your breath now. Your team can play. It doesn’t mean that there’s any promises, but it does mean that we can all stop waiting for the other shoe to drop. Everyone underestimated how good this team would be in 2014, including me. They’ve shown otherwise.
Enjoy what you have. Look forward to the next game when they take on the Houston Texans, a game that I think they will win. If they do, they are 7-3, winners of six of their last seven, in first place, and will have Gordon coming back to play.