BEREA — So, the 75th Battle of Ohio doesn't mean anything?
"We still need to figure out where we stand," Browns linebacker David Bowens said.
For the third consecutive season, the Browns are not standing near playoff contention. While those aspirations are put on hold for another year, the Browns look to the future.
First and foremost the future involves the need for a quarterback. Rookie Colt McCoy returns to the starting lineup after missing the last three games with a high ankle sprain. On Thursday, coach Eric Mangini named McCoy the starter for the final three games.
In five starts this season, McCoy is 81-for-127 passing (63.8 percent complete) for 975 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Although McCoy has not played in three weeks, he has stayed involved in the weekly game plans.
"I've done a pretty good job of knowing the game plan, staying in tune to what we're doing, to what we are trying to do offensively," McCoy said. "Sometimes it's hard to step right back out and play, but because I've done a good job of staying in the playbook and staying in the game plan, I'll be fine."
On the other side of the line of scrimmage is a Bengals team that has lost 10 consecutive games. Their losing streak started Oct. 3 in Cleveland Browns Stadium, as the host team won 23-20. Since then the losses have accumulated, but Cincinnati has been competitive. It is fair to label the Bengals the best 2-11 team in the NFL. Well, they're the only 2-11 team in the NFL, but you get the point. The team is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Defensively, Cincinnati is ranked 21st in total yards allowed per game (Cleveland is 22nd), 24th in rushing yards allowed per game (Cleveland is 23rd) and 15th in defensive passing yards allowed per game (Cleveland is 16th). In last week's 23-7 loss to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati did not allow the Steelers to score an offensive touchdown. It was the Bengals offense — most notably quarterback Carson Palmer — who contributed to 14 Steelers points thanks to two interceptions returned for a touchdown.
"If you just watch the tape and you don't have a newspaper to tell you what they are," Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "They have a very high-powered offense, they've got great receivers, a great quarterback and that offensive line is playing well. It's a great test anytime you play these guys. They have the ability to score anywhere on the field as we saw that our first game. Plus the quarterback can get red-hot and that's a long day if that happens."
Palmer hasn't been red hot in a while. In the first meeting against the Browns, Palmer finished 25-for-36 passing for 371 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Wide receiver Terrell Owens had 10 catches for 222 yards and a 78-yard touchdown. Since then, Palmer has thrown 15 interceptions. He had three interceptions in the Bengals' first four games.
"He hasn't thrown (those interceptions) against us," Mangini said. "I'd like to get some of those. Before the Baltimore game (Joe) Flacco was slumping and you don't want them to get out of that against you. Over those games, (Palmer) has made some incredible throws and with him, too, at any point they can hit the home run and just like that they're dancing in the end zone."
A Browns win on Sunday would give them a season sweep with the intrastate rivals for the first time since 2002 and also give the Browns one more win than last season.
Whether or not any of this contributes to the fate of the coaching staff remains to be seen and remains to be discussed in the local and national media.
"I take care of what I have to take care of for the next week and that's the approach that I've taken and that's the approach that I'll take," Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. "Bust my (tail) this week, go down to Cincinnati with Colt and the rest of the guys and try to get a win and try to put up more than six points."