Bengals Claw Browns, 21-14

<I>David's game report appears courtesy of the Ravenna Record-Courier</I><BR><BR> Dave reviews the Browns-Bengals game, a contest that yielded Marvin Lewis' first victory as a head coach. Lewis didn't do it himself, however - he got a lot of help from the Browns themselves.

CLEVELAND - Maybe the Cleveland Browns should take a cue from the old barnstorming baseball teams of the 1930's and 40's.

Just pack their bags and spend the season as vagabonds, playing road game after road game.

Why not? The Browns simply don't find any comfort at home.

Cleveland Browns Stadium has been plenty comfortable, however, for teams like the Cincinnati Bengals and their oft-maligned quarterback Jon Kitna, who escaped town with a 21-14 victory and handed the Browns their 11th loss in 18 home games with Butch Davis as coach.

The Browns are 0-2 at home this season and have only won three of their last 12 games on their own turf dating back to 2001. Now the Browns find themselves with a disappointing 1-3 record, tied with the Bengals in the AFC North Division basement.

So what's the problem?

"I wish I had the answer for that," said Davis.

Like so many home losses before, Sunday's came down to the closing minute. The play that sealed the Browns fate was a poor decision by Tim Couch, who was intercepted by cornerback Jeff Burris at the Bengals' 28-yard line, spoiling a potential game-tying drive with 51 seconds on the clock.

Couch had hoped to dump the ball to Steve Heiden in the flat.

"Burris stepped up like he was going to take (Heiden), and as I was going to throw the ball over the top to (Kevin Johnson) on a corner route, I saw (Burris) out of the corner of my eye running back to make that play," said Couch. "I kind of got in between not throwing it and throwing it, and ended up floating the football. It was a horrible mistake on my part, and I'd love to have it back."

The mistake spoiled what had been a positive return to the lineup for Couch, who replaced injured starter Kelly Holcomb. Before throwing the last-minute interception, Couch completed 23-of-36 passes for 280 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns, finishing the game with a tidy 94.7 quarterback rating.

Couch's interception may have been the final nail in the Browns' coffin, but his teammates took their turns holding the hammer in the first 59 minutes.

A seemingly never-ending stream of dropped passes, holding calls and false starts hindered every drive after the Browns took a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter. The comedy of errors included a season-high 11 penalties for 101 yards.

"We played about as poor in several areas of this game as you could possibly play," said Davis. "The penalties absolutely killed us. We had touchdowns taken off the board because of penalties. You can't shoot yourself in the foot like that."

Wide receiver Quincy Morgan was called for a downfield hold that nullified what would have been a 59-yard touchdown pass from Couch to Johnson early in the second quarter. The Browns found a way to overcome that mistake, driving 59 yards in seven plays and taking a 14-7 lead on a 4-yard pass from Couch to running back Jamel White in the end zone.

Morgan committed another critical error late in the fourth quarter, dropping a pass on 3rd-and-17 right at the first-down marker. Instead of finding a new set of downs at the Bengals 45 with 2:34 remaining, the Browns were forced to punt.

"It was a little behind me, but I got my hands on it," said Morgan. "I have to make plays like that if I want to be a big-time receiver in this league."

Morgan did look like a big-time playmaker on the game's second play, taking a short screen pass from Couch and following a block from center Jeff Faine to a 71 yard touchdown. It offered a brief hint that maybe this home game would be different.

"We jumped out 7-0 and the crowd was in it," said Davis. "That's how you write the script. Then you have to follow up defensively. You have to go out there and slam the door."

Instead, the Browns defense held the door wide open for Kitna, who looked more like a young Dan Marino than a guy simply biding his time until No. 1 pick Carson Palmer is ready to take over the Bengals' offense.

Kitna quickly answered the Browns opening score, marching his team 76 yards in 14 plays and tying the game with a 3-yard fade to Chad Johnson. It was the first of three touchdown passes by Kitna.

His scoring pass that tied the game had to be the most frustrating for the Browns. Just 20 seconds before halftime, Kitna lofted a 55-yard touchdown pass to Johnson, who easily reached the end zone behind a confused Browns secondary.

Safety Robert Griffith thought cornerback Anthony Henry would stay with Johnson down the field. Henry assumed Griffith would pick him up, and broke off coverage.

"We knew the route was coming," said Davis. "We just got beat deep."

After failing to hold a lead for the first 215 minutes and 59 seconds of the 2003 season, Kitna put the Bengals ahead for good with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Reggie Kelly with 9:01 remaining in the game. The score was made possible by a pass interference penalty in the end zone by Browns cornerback Daylon McCutcheon, who had been beaten down the sideline by wide receiver Peter Warrick.

All of the mistakes forced the Browns to hope for one more fourth-quarter comeback. After stubbing their toes for four quarters last, they managed some late luck to win in San Francisco. Davis knew a asking for a repeat was pushing his luck.

"We seem to do this to ourselves," said Davis. "We have to stop. It absolutely has to stop."

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