The Browns played another really bad game against a really bad team in losing to the Bengals in Cincinnati, and it can't help Eric Mangini's job security.
In the 19-17 loss, the Browns were manhandled, as Bengals running back Cedric Benson ran 31 times for 150 yards.
"We should be able to stop the run," Mangini said. "That's part of playing in this division."
Except that the Browns didn't. In midseason, Cleveland beat New Orleans and New England to raise hopes and expectations. Since, they beat Carolina when the Panthers missed a last-play field goal, beat Miami on a tipped pass that fell into the Browns hands by happenstance and lost to Buffalo and Cincinnati, both teams that had two wins in the final month of the season.
This hardly seems like a team on an upswing, as every week Mangini seems to gnash his teeth over some element of his team. Even the wins were of the "oh geez" kind, as the Browns did everything they could to give a game to Carolina and played poor offensively against Miami.
Then came the Bengals, losers of 10 in a row. Until they play the Browns.
Mangini now has won the same number of games as he won a year ago, when a four-game winning streak to end the season saved his job. But he is 5-9 with games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh remaining. The Ravens and Steelers are still playing for playoff position. The Browns are playing for nothing of consequence. Again.
--QB Colt McCoy's numbers were impressive: 19-of-25 for 243 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. More than impressive.
It is confusing, then, why the Browns did not score more than 17 points -- with one touchdown a gift from the Bengals pass defense, when CB Keiwan Ratliff foolishly went for the ball on a late throw and allowed Brian Robiskie an open path to the end zone for a score with just more than two minutes left.
McCoy played very well and looked good, but he also was sacked four times.
Other mistakes, especially penalties, doomed the offense.
"I thought early on we lacked a little bit of energy, we lacked a little bit of intensity," McCoy said. "And that stems from me, that stems from the older guys on this team and it stems from all of us coming together and playing with a lot of energy and a lot of focus. It's hard to do late in the season. But if you want to be a successful football team and want to play great late in the stretch, that's what you've got to do."
--RB Peyton Hillis is starting to show effects of being the only back on the team. The Browns ride Hillis, and at this point of the season the other team knows it. Hillis ran just 14 times and gained 59 yards against the Bengals. Part of his limited carries was the Bengals holding the ball, part was Colt McCoy's success throwing it.
But Hillis never got into a flow, which he readily admitted. And on a key third down at the 1 in the second half, when a touchdown would've cut the Bengals lead to two points, Hillis ran up the middle and was stuffed.
It's hard to second guess the call, given the way the offense relies on Hillis, but it sure was easy to predict.
"It never felt like we got into the flow of things," Hillis said. "You don't establish yourself. The whole team has to be involved and motivated. We have to get to that point. We're so off and on through the whole game."
--WR Brian Robiskie finally scored a touchdown -- in the 14th game of the season -- in the fourth quarter on a 44-yard reception. Robiskie benefited from Bengals DB Keiwan Ratliff taking a foolish angle on the play, but Robiskie also caught five passes for 82 yards, which is a pretty productive day.
--NT Ahtyba Rubin led the Browns with 10 tackles, but lamented giving up 188 yards rushing to the woeful Bengals. "It probably says we didn't prepare well enough," Rubin said.
--TE Ben Watson continues his career year as he benefits from the Browns emphasis on the tight end. Watson had seven more catches, for 92 yards, giving him 58 for the season for 674 yards.
--LB David Bowens summed up what happened to the Browns, as Cincinnati ran the ball down their throats. "It looks like we got bullied," Bowens said.
--KR Josh Cribbs continues to be AWOL. He averaged 17.4 yards on his five kickoff returns, a number that is well below the league norm and far below Cribbs' own standard. Cribbs provided a lot of spark to a team that needed it. Without his spark -- no TDs this season on special teams -- the offense looks worse.
REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Colt McCoy gives every indication the Browns can rely on him for the long-term future. He made several nice throws, particularly a down-the-seam pass to tight end Ben Watson and a touchdown pass to Robert Royal thrown past defenders and put in a spot that either Royal would catch it or nobody possibly could. McCoy has moxie. He makes mistakes, but no quarterback is perfect. He plays smart and plays well, and is the main bright spot to come out of a 5-9 season.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D-plus -- The fact to ponder following this game is not what Peyton Hillis did in the game, but what he's done this season compared to the rest of the team. Hillis has rushed for 1,129 yards. That leads the Browns. The team's second-best rusher? Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy, with 87 yards. That shows every team in the league that if they stop Hillis, they stop the Browns. And every team in the league is doing just that. Cincinnati is not a great rushing defense, but it loaded up to stop Hillis and was successful. Imagine what Baltimore and Pittsburgh's defense can do the final two games.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- Carson Palmer threw for a very effective 209 yards. He made some bad throws -- which he's done all season -- but the Browns never really came close to an interception, and the Bengals problems were more their doing than anything the Browns did. Example: Palmer threw incomplete in the end zone on one third down, but he threw to the wrong guy. He chose to throw a fade when he had an underneath route wide open at the goal-line.
RUSH DEFENSE: F -- Cedric Benson had 150 rushing yards. The Cincinnati Bengals totaled 188 yards on the ground. That game "improved" the Bengals to 95 yards per game rushing for the season, and put their season ranking at 27th. Translated, the Browns let one of the worst rushing teams in the league run all over them. If the team rallied around Eric Mangini last season to win four in a row at season's end it's anyone's guess what is happening this season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- It's a given that Reggie Hodges will punt well, that Phil Dawson will kick well and that the Browns will cover kicks well. But the absence of Josh Cribbs from the return game has been noticeable, and difficult. The Browns need Cribbs' best and he's not been his best this season. Against the Bengals he did not even average 20 yards on his kickoff returns. Perhaps Cribbs' is not recovered from the four dislocated toes that sidelined him earlier. It would not be the first time the Browns put a player on the field at less than 100 percent. If Cribbs is not, the Browns would be better served to adjust and find someone else to return kicks.
COACHING: F -- A team trying to grow does not lose consecutive games to teams at the bottom of the NFL totem pole. The Browns did that, which puts them squarely near the bottom of the league. Ridiculous. The Browns talk tough and talk well, but the past two weeks have put the previous two wins in perspective. They were gifts from the other team. Those happen in the NFL, and you take them happily. But good teams follow those gifts by playing well and hard. The Browns have done neither. Now they get to finish against two of the league's better teams. Whatever is happening, things are have not worked the last two games.