Romp Renews 2004 Hopes

The Browns showed signs of improvement against the Bengals, but tougher challenges await. Gerard Warren tells David Carducci tonight that he knows that Browns fans and the media may not <I>believe</I> yet, but David sees both harbingers of future success and

CLEVELAND - For that rare Cleveland breed of eternal optimist who hasn't been worn down by year after year of mediocre football at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Sunday had to be an exhilarating excuse to keep hope alive.

As for the pessimists and realists of Cleveland, Browns defensive tackle Gerard Warren offered a message for them as they tried to grasp the true meaning of the Browns 34-17 demolition of the Cincinnati Bengals.

"You don't believe yet. I know you don't," said Warren. "You want to see it back to back weeks."

Warren is right. Anyone who remembers the Browns 44-6 thumping of the Arizona Cardinals last year would probably like some proof that the Browns can do more than just beat one of the NFL's worst teams before considering them a serious playoff contender.

Beating the Cardinals was nothing more than brief pacifiers in the middle of a long, frustrating season. It was a Nov. 16 win that improved the Browns record to 4-5, encouraging fans to dream of a second-half playoff run. Instead, they watched the Browns lose five straight games.

Considering that collapse, it's only natural for some Browns fans to want to see more from their team before getting overly excited.

The truth of the matter is the Bengals, like the Cardinals of last year, are a bad football team.

The Browns simply won a game they should have won. And that actually does offer some reason for excitement. This is a team that hasn't always won the games they should.

Remember last year's visit by the San Diego Chargers in week seven? The Browns were 3-3 at the time, the same as their current record, and they had a chance to move into first place in the AFC North Division if they could just beat the winless Chargers.

The Browns lost 26-20 to the team that would end up with the NFL's worst record in 2003.

There were, however, several other reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the Browns current situation after Sunday's win over the Bengals.

For the first time this season, the Browns seemed to find a way to coax productive days out of both William Green and Lee Suggs, occasionally even playing both talented running backs in the backfield at the same time. One back rushed for over 100 yards, the other had 100-plus yards receiving.

The Browns defense was even more encouraging. But then, it should dominate a Bengals offense that often looks lost with young and overwhelmed quarterback Carson Palmer running the show.

Even the Browns passing attack came out of its shell. Jeff Garcia tossed four touchdown passes, including a 99-yarder to Andre Davis that will immortalize both players in the team and league record books.

Unfortunately, the Browns also fed the pessimist mentality with a near-disastrous stretch in the first half that included four ugly turnovers. They were the kind of self-inflicted wounds that probably would have meant a loss if the Browns were playing any other team.

Garcia was intercepted twice on two badly overthrown balls. He also fumbled a snap for the fourth time this season, and failed to fall on another fumble by Suggs that led directly to a Bengals defensive score.

In fact, all of the Bengals 17 points came on three gift turnovers during a seven-minute stretch of the second quarter.

A typically sloppy job of time management by the Browns sideline nearly allowed the Bengals to take a 17-14 lead into the half. Fortunately, Garcia managed to loft a 5-yard, third-down touchdown pass to Aaron Shea with no time remaining on the first half clock, or the Browns, who had mis-used all three of their timeouts, would have come away from a drive deep into Cincinnati territory without scoring a single point.

"I almost screwed it up, the time management there at the end," Browns coach Butch Davis admitted. "We had to hurry to the line of scrimmage and if he (Shea) does not catch that ball, we may not have any time left.

"The players bailed me out there. We would have looked foolish if we didn't score."

A team can look foolish against the Bengals and still come away with a win. That won't be the case next week when the Philadelphia Eagles - one of only three unbeaten teams in the NFL - come to town.

If the Browns beat or even play well against the Eagles, then maybe it's time for the pessimists and realists to start believing again.

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