The last time the Browns and Bengals met, it produced a 106-point scoring fiesta that shocked the national media, infuriated Browns fans, and mercifully ended the Cleveland coaching tenure of one Butch Davis. Nine months later, the same two teams meet up again, to dramatically different effect.
A lot has changed. The Browns have a new front office, a new head coach, a new defensive scheme, and an entirely rebuilt roster. The front office could have announced they were going to field an NHL hockey team, and the change would not have been much more dramatic. But the Browns' off-season extreme makeover didn't come without effort. Savage worked the phones right up to the opening gun. In August he signed Orlando Ruff, who quickly rose to a starting spot as an inside linebacker. In September, he dealt away reserve center Melvin Fowler for hulking Minnesota offensive tackle Nat Dorsey. And he opted to keep UDFAs like Simon Fraser and Josh Cribbs, while shipping sixth-round draft pick Keg Hoffman to the practice squad and trading receiver Andre Davis for a 2006 draft pick.
In fact, Savage spent the entire offseason frantically working the phones, trying to bring anyone with a shred of talent and decency onto a roster poisoned by Paul Hilton Davis. Watching Savage work is like watching Klinger from the TV show M.A.S.H., trading booze and nylons for medical supplies and gasoline. It's the kind of frantic bargaining to impress a Turkish rug merchant. In August, ESPN reports that the Reuben Droughns trade involved at least one pallet of Bertman's Mustard, while the Dilfer deal included a rush shipment of fresh pirogies to Seattle coach Mike Holmgren
This, and a couple of serviceable defensive
All the wheeling and dealing must be making an impression, because it has clearly shut up the un-shutupable Chad Johnson. Johnson famously shipped bottles of Pepto Bismol to Browns defensive backs before the first Browns-Bengals matchup in 2004, only to lay a colossal egg in an ugly loss to Cleveland. A year later, he's singing the Browns' praises. And this, over a defense that many regard as the weakest in the NFL.
As it turns out, Johnson does know something. The first play from scrimmage, Carson Palmer drops back to pass, looking for Johnson on a deep crossing route. Instead, Palmer gets drilled in the spine by Kenard Lang, who comes steaming off the right edge like an asteroid falling from space. The pass sails high, leading Johnson right into an onrushing Sean Jones. The young safety hits Johnson so hard it knocks the receiver out of his cleats, and pops the ball into the waiting arms of Daylon McCutcheon. Cutch scoots the ball 33 yards for a quick Browns TD.
The Bengals fare less well. It takes the young, Heisman-winning QB 30 minutes to get the feeling back into his legs. He'll spend the remainder of the season in a halo-brace, eating food through a straw. Field crews never manage to locate Johnson's cleats, though rumor has it at least one shoe crashed through a luxury box window.
By the start of the second quarter, the route is on. The Browns run defense, suspect through much of preseason, looks suddenly stout with Ethan Kelly plugging the middle. The Patriots cast-off forces three fumbles by driving the center and guard into the backfield, and picks off one pass when Jon Kitna bounces one off the helmet of his own lineman.
With the Browns comfortably ahead by a score of 133-0 in the third quarter, the officials abruptly stop play and confer on the sideline. Paul Tagliabue is on the line. He's calling the game. Apparently, the Bengals' hideous striped-and-paneled uniforms are causing children across the country to fall into dangerous, epileptic seizures. And when Cleveland Browns Stadium officials confirm at least six similar cases in the stands, the National Center for Disease Control has no choice but to declare the atrocious uniforms an imminent public health hazard.
Bengals owner Mike Brown is livid. He refuses to release the uniforms that he so proudly designed himself. But when a heavily armed Ohio National Guard hazmat team choppers onto the field, Brown has little choice. The uniforms would later be sent, in sealed casks, to the industrial incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, for permanent disposal.
Hazmat crews decontaminate themselves after
Brown, unable to procure new uniforms during the season, is forced to outfit his team with surplus unis purchased from the Tampa Bay Bucaneers. Alas, these are the infamous "Dandy Buc" uniforms cast in yellow-and-orange hues. The new look sends the franchise into an uncontrollable tailspin. The Bengals wouldn't win a game all season. In fact, they don't score a point until a freak play in week five allows a defensive tackle to fall on the ball in the end zone for the Bengals' first touchdown.
As for the uniforms. The Browns game seemed to spell the end of an era in Cincinnati. For years, watching the evolution of the Bengals uniform was like watching the progression of Michael Jackson's face. Just when you think it's reached the absolute limit, it gets worse. But Mike Brown has a trick up his sleeve. And when the Bengals unveil their new-look 2006 unis with panels of authentic tiger fur down the sides, it spurs the CDC back into action. The Feds promptly confiscate the dangerous designs, but not before PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) launches a protest that gridlocks Cincinnati.
Oh, the score?
Browns: 133 Bengals: 0
And that's the way I see it.