The Browns had a beautiful day and an enthusiastic crowd to welcome them as the Romeo Crennel era began today in Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Crennel erred in favor of vets who had done well in the pre-season when naming his starting lineup. Matt Stewart and Kenard Lang were the starting outside linebackers, and Chris Crocker started at strong safety over Sean Jones. Stewart hurt his right knee early in the first quarter, and was replaced by Thompson. Reuben Droughns was the Browns starting running back and got the bulk of the carries.
The following are my notes as I watched the game. The names and field positions have not been verified for accuracy.
Browns possession: Joshua Cribbs started the day getting a quick introduction to the realities of professional football as he was decked on his first kick-off return. Cribbs gave up the ball, which was recovered by special teams standout Mason Unck. Reuben Droughns started the day on a hopeful note with an inside run that turned into a long gain as he ran left into the secondary. After that, however, the Browns drive stalled despite a Maurice Carthon gadget pl.ay which involved a handoff and subsequent flip to Trent Dilfer. Bypassing a possible throw to Antonio Bryant, Dilfer's long throw to Dennis Northcutt was batted away. The Browns punted.
Bengals: Following a punt, the Bengals were greeted by a swarming Browns defense which forced a three-and-out. Of particular note was excellent coverage on a third-down play where Carson Palmer was forced to throw the ball out of bounds.
Browns: A Dennis Northcutt punt return for a touchdown was called back due to a block in the back (without which, of course, the run might not have been possible). Dilfer quickly found Antonio Bryant for a short gain which resulted in a third-and-two. Following this, a well-protected Dilfer found Bryant again for a first down to the Bengals 43. The chemistry between Dilfer and Bryant, so obvious during training camp and pre-season, shows itself on the field early.
After the first down, Droughns punished the Bengals defenders en route to a seven-yard gain, and a quick pass to Dennis Northcutt (lined up wide to the right) resulted in a Browns first down on the 29. Dilfer immediately tried to hit Bryant in the corner of the end zone, which failed when Bryant landed out of bounds. On second-and-ten, Dilfer hit Northcutt across the middle for eight. Another quick pass to TE Steve Heiden nets a first down on the Bengals 17. Droughns has a nice hole on the right side of the line and plows ahead for six. On second-and-four, Droughns goes to the right again and has no room to run, picking up one yard.
On third-and-three, we get the type of play that only seems to happen to the Browns. Dilfer bounces the ball of the dome of a ducking official, bounces high in the air, and is snapped up by a leaping Jeff Faine. Since the official is considered "part of the field", much like Bengals team president Mike Brown, you aren't supposed to have linemen catch the richochet. Apparently unaware of this bit of NFL rulebook trivia, Faine fines himself the subject of a penalty flag. After turning down the five-yard penalty, Phil Dawson nails a 29-yard field goal. BROWNS 3, BENGALS 0
Bengals: Dawson kicks off to the one-yard line of the Bengals, and Thad Perry takes it back to the Bengals 21. A reverse to Chad Johnson gets eleven and then gets another eight on a quick strike to the middle of the field from Carson Palmer. On second down, Rudi Johnson gets a little running room, but Chaun Thompson stays at home and stops him after four yards, but the Bengals have a first down.
On their next series, Palmer continues to get good protection and fires another strike to Houshmanzahdeh. Moving quickly now, the Bengals throw wide to Kevin Walter. Rudi Johnson swings to the left and gets another Palmer completion which nets five yards. Johnson gets a little lane on second down, but it stopped by Ben Taylor after getting enough for a first down.
A safety blitz by Chris Crocker on first down is picked up nicely and Johnson gets a 14-yard reception after hooking in front of Daylon McCutcheon (who is giving Johnson plenty of space). Palmer looks impressive as the Bengals go for high-percentage passes and move the ball quickly. The first quarter comes to an end.
The Bengals start the second on the Browns 18 and driving. Two tight ends shift to the left, and Chris Perry gets a pitch in that direction for five yards. Rudi Johnson then gets a quick pitch running right and he gets to the Browns five before coughing up the ball. Johnson is ruled down by contact.
On first-and-goal, Ray Mickens finds himself matched up against Chad Johnson and keeps him from catching a touchdown pass by grabbing his leg. This isn't allowed, apparently, so he's called for pass interference. As boos for the call cascaded downward from the Dawg Pound, Rudi Johnson powered in from the one for a go-ahead Bengals touchdown. A very impressive drive by Cincinnati, which moved efficiently down the field using high-percentage passes and a good mix of running plays. BENGALS 7, BROWNS 3
Browns: With Joshua Cribbs out due to an injury to his left knee, Reuben Droughns dropped back for the kick return. Droughns looks like a natural at returning kicks and rumbles 35 yards to the Browns 42 with the kickoff. Droughns return is a clear sign the Browns are about to insert RB William Green on their third series.
Dilfer swings it out right to Dennis Northcutt, who gets five yards. William Green then gets the ball behind FB Corey McIntyre and follows him for two yards. On third down, Dilfer fumbled the ball on a curious play which looked designed for Dilfer to follow Faine. The Bengals recovered the ball and have fantastic field position on their own 49.
Bengals: Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson hope to strike quickly and a well-protected Palmer turns out to be his own worst enemy as he underthrows a wide-open Chad Johnson. The delay allows a Browns defender to close and prevent the quick TD. Palmer returns to what he does well, and first a quick pass to Johnson on the left-side of the field for a first down.
After the completion, Rudi Johnson spins for seven yards and the Bengals are again on the Browns 30-yard line. Johnson then gets the ball to the other side and rambles 13 yards to the Browns 17. Following a handoff to Chris Perry, the Bengals face a second-and-eight.
Palmer gets some pressure for the first time today, courtesy of Kenard Lang, but tosses the ball forward for two more yards. On the third-and-six Andra Davis blitzes and comes in from the right side to blast Palmer and force and incompletion. The Browns have stopped the drive, but Shayne Graham has an easy 32-yard field goal to convert. BENGALS 10, BROWNS 3
Browns: Crennel sends Reuben Droughns deep again. This time, however, he can't find a gap to run through and is tackled by Kevin Walter at the seventeen. Ben Taylor's number gets called for a holding call on the return, putting the Browns in a bad position back at their own eight-yard-line.
William Green finds nothing on first down and gets only a yard on the carry. On second down, Green gets to try to plow ahead again and this time gets three. Green is the sort of runner who seems to need to find a rhythm and the first returns on the RB rotation looks like a success. One third and six, however, Dilfer gets good protection and finds rookie Braylon Edwards for seven and a first down.
Dilfer tries to find Dennis Northcutt deep to his left, but a slightly underthrown pass is broken up by Tory James. Green then rambles to the right side for five. A bullet to Steve Heiden gets six, but Heiden gets drilled and some trash talk starts. Heiden springs up and makes a first-down signal to the approval of the fans.
What gets even more of their approval is the sixty-eight pass completion to Frisman Jackson who gets some nice blocks and is able to ramble down the north sideline for the quick score. Ryan Tucker turns the extra point into a challenge, however, as he gets a personal foul for unnecessary roughness and turns the extra point into a 35-yard attempt after a fifteen-yard penalty. Phil Dawson drills it through anyway and it is BROWNS 10, BENGALS 10.
I now apologize for saying the Browns should have kept Richard Alston rather than Frisman Jackson.
Bengals: Thad Perry rights the kickoff straight upfield, and has a unimpressive return pushed further back to the Bengals nine following a holding penalty on the return team. Rudi Johnson runs between the right guard and tackle and gets three before being stopped by Andra Davis. Fans on the west end of the Stadium are up and making noise as Johnson is stopped again after a one-yard gain. This brings up a third-and-six. Palmer out of the shotgun gets pressure from Andra Davis, but a quick pass to Houshmandzadeh gets a nice spot for a Bengals first down.
Rudi Johnson runs up the middle for eight after pulling out of the grasp of Orlando Ruff. Johnson immediately gets the ball again and follows right guard for another two-yard run and a Bengals first down. This brings about the two-minute warning.
Chad Johnson continues an impressive day with a fifteen-yard catch over the middle, taking the ball to the Bengals 45. Nick Eason gets a nice rush on Palmer on first down, however, forcing an incomplete pass. On second down, Chad Johnson pushes off against Leigh Bodden and finds himself called for offensive pass interference, creating a second-and-twenty. A noisy Cleveland Browns Stadium helps to create a delay of game putting the Bengals in a second-and-25.
The Bengals get out of the situation after a nice draw fake to the running back, and a thirty-five yard pass from an unhurried Palmer to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Bengals call time out.
Kevin Walter finds himself all along and gets a ten-yard completion. Following this Walter, gets a nice pass from Palmer around the five and rambles in for a Cincinnati touchdown. A ten-play 91-yard drive gets the Bengals ahead with less than a minute left in the first half. BENGALS 17, BROWNS 10.
Browns: Reuben Droughns returns the ball 22-yards to the Browns 32 and Dilfer immediately goes into the shotgun. A quick strike to Jackson moves the ball eight yards and the Browns call time out. Another five-yard pass to Jackson is complete, to the apparent unhappiness of the Bengals talkative Bengals press corps. Dilfer follows it up with a throw out-of-bounds. A third straight short pass to Jacksin stays in-bounds causing Cleveland to take their second time out with the ball on the Bengals 48.
With fourteen seconds left, a third-down pass to Antonio Bryant is incomplete. The Browns are in fourth-down and three with nine seconds left. Dilfer throws the ball out of bounds, in the general vicinity of Antonio Bryant, and the Bengals take over on downs near mid-field.
Bengals: QB Carson Palmer throws on up into the end zone, where it is harmlessly bashed to the ground by Browns rookie safety Brodney Pool.
It is a frightening display of hard work, passion, violence and sheer animal ferocity. Only the strong emerge unscathed, and with the prize firmly in their sights. Few are qualified to attain the rewards of the game at this level.
But enough about the media lunch line.
Bengals: The Bengals moved quickly once more after getting the kickoff to open the second half. Moving efficiently downfield with inside running and safe passes of ten yards or less, the Bengals were on the Browns twenty within minutes of the opening of the second half. Browns fans in the Dawg Pound make life difficult for Carson Palmer, and he calls a time out. A pass from Palmer to Jeremi Johnson to open the half gets 18 yards and the Bengals third touchdown of the day. Nine plays, 78 yards, and a little over five minutes burned off the clock. The Browns will need to improve significantly on defense before these teams meet again later this year. Palmer already has over 200 yards passing. BENGALS 24, BROWNS 10.
Browns: Now, Trent Dilfer and the Browns have a two-touchdown spread to make up. Reuben Droughns rambles 17-yards on the kickoff return to the Browns 21-yard line. Brian Simmons deflects a pass intended for Steve Heiden to create a second-and-ten. A pass intended for Terrelle Smith bounces off his hands and lands in the clutches of rookie LB Odell Thurman, who then goes thirteen yards to the Browns 14. The Bengals take over hoping to put a nail into the Browns coffin halfway through the third quarter.
Bengals: Rudi Johnson gets a couple of quick runs taking the Bengals eight yards to the Browns six and creating a third and two. Despite having all day to throw, Palmer overthrows a well-covered Kelly Washington and the Browns dodge keep some hope alive by forcing the Bengals to kick a field goal. Graham converts the 23-yarder easily, putting the Bengals up by 17. BENGALS 27, BROWNS 10.
Browns: After giving up two quick scores to the Bengals, the Browns now have their work cut out for them. Droughns returns the ball like, well, a running back, cutting straight upfield for a 33-yard return. The Browns start on their 31, as Droughns comes right back in and gets the hand-off. After a second run, the Browns have a third-and-two and Droughns trots off the field. Dilfer then leads Antonio Bryant too far and the Browns are forced to punt after a three-and-out.
Bengals: A nice punt by Richardson, which bounces out on the Bengals five, is partially nullified by a ten-yard holding call which puts the ball on the Browns 15-yard line, or so it appears. Marvin Lewis' head first starts emitting jets of steam, and then finally explodes as he protests the enforcement of the penalty. After some shouting and some consultation by the officials, the Browns are forced to punt over.
One the second punt, the officials apparently don't see what appears to be a blatant clip, but Ratliff is contained at his own twenty-five for a ten-yard net after the snafu. Chad Johnson, who has returns to the field after what were described as "spasms" get a quick swing pass but is met by Daylon McCutcheon. Cutch remains on his knee after the play and heads over to the sideline. Without a noticeable limp or other injury, the immediate concern is McCutcheon's situation with migraines earlier in the pre-season.
On third down, Leigh Bodden picks off a pass and scampers into the end zone. On the opposite side of the field, however, Ray Mickens is called for a ticky-tack "hands to the face" penalty and the big turnover is called back. Boos again cascade from the stadium crowd to the officials. The Browns, who should have crashed emotionally after the play recover quickly, particularly as Chris Crocker blows up a handoff-and-pitch back to the quarterback on second down. The third and sixteen is nearly converted on a twelve-yard screen, but the Bengals are forced to punt. The punt, after looking like it might bounce the Bengals way, goes into the end zone for a touchback.
Browns: Trent Dilfer connects to Steve Heiden right off the bat with a twenty-yard pass play. Heiden goes into the air and pulls down the ball with a terrific catch… those are the types of plays the Browns will need to get back into the game. Droughns then runs out of the I to the right for three yards. On second down, Dilfer tries to force a pass to Bryant which is read perfectly by Madieu Williams. Dilfer avoids the pick as Williams bobbles the ball. A well-protected Dilfer then finds a wide-open Bryant again to the Bengals 43. The Browns are driving…
Dilfer drops straight back once more and fires across the middle to Heiden. This time Heiden drops the ball under the weight of several Bengals defenders. With Billy Miller in the game, Droughns gets a delayed handoff and rambles through a nice hole on the right-hand side of the line for eight yards. Terrelle Smith comes into the game and a quick count fails to surprise the Bengals as Droughns gets just one yard on the play, giving the Browns a fourth-and-one as the fourth quarter dawns.
Dilfer drops back and throws on fourth down, but bounces the pass to a well-covered Frisman Jackson. The Bengals take over on downs, but are forced to kick back after a three-and-out. Dilfer attempts to strike quickly, but is picked off Keiwan Ratliff who rambles 16 yards with the return. Fortunately for the Browns, Palmer rolls to his right on the first play of the Bengals drive and has the ball jarred from his hands due to a Chaun Thompson sack. Orlando Ruff scoops up the ball and gets six yards on a short run. The Browns take over the ball following the exchange of turnovers on their own 42.
On first down after the fumble, Dilfer strikes quickly to WR Frisman Jackson for 13-yards and a first down. The Browns are again in Cincinnati territory on their 45-yard line. There is 12:30 left in the final quarter.
Dilfer continues to operate out of the shotgun and fires eight yards to Frisman Jackson once more. The Browns fourth WR is left alone on the next play as well, and grabs another quick pass for a Browns first down on the thirty.
But Jackson isn't done. A huge surprise in today's game, Jackson catches his third straight pass before Dilfer throws to Dennis Northcutt in traffic. Northcutt loses two on the play and it's second and twelve from the Bengals 20. Dropping back, Dilfer finds no one open and is forced to roll to his left for a gain of three. Third and nine for the Browns. Dilfer bounces the third-down pass incomplete and appears to hit his hand on a helmet. Dilfer springs right back up, however, and Dawson drills a 34-yard kick. The gap closes to two touchdowns. The drive is eight plays, 41 yards, resulting in a field goal. Jackson now has eight catches for 122 yards – a career day for the converted quarterback. BENGALS 27, BROWNS 13.
Bengals: Phil Dawson drills the ball to the goal line, where Thad Perry peers through the sun to catch the end-over-end kick. Sprinting to his left, Perry finds a gap in the wedge and scampers through, head up the left sideline until he is finally pushed out at mid-field. The kick return goes for fifty yards. Not content with the two-touchdown lead, the Bengals throw a pass on second down which is complete to Chad Johnson for ten yards.
Rudi Johnson is a punishing runner and shows it as he immediately follows up the pass with a six-yard run up the middle. Palmer follows it up again with a quick pass to Johnson on his right-hand side. Johnson has a little blocking and picks up a first down on the twenty. Palmer drops back quickly again continues to carve up the Browns defense with mid-range passes, again to Johnson for ten yards. Then Rudi Johnson bulls his way up the middle for another four yards.
Then Leigh Bodden gets an interception which counts. As Palmer tried to find Houshmandzadeh in the center of the end zone, Bodden snares the pass and falls down, allowing the Browns to get the ball back on their own twenty.
Browns: Dilfer moves the Browns quickly out of the huddle and finds Droughns for six. The tough Browns running back gets the ball on the subsequent play out of the shotgun and finds a hole on the left, eating up seventeen yards. Braylon Edwards gets the ball next, a nine-yard completion. On second-and-one Dilfer has to roll out after finding no one open and throws the ball to the Bengals sideline rather than force a pass. Third and one…. Dilfer in the shotgun again and throws quickly to Bryant. The throw goes high and behind Bryant and it bounces into the hands of Tory James, who fortuitously drops it. On fourth down, Dilfer fires a quick strike to Northcutt, who can't bring in the pass as he is being hauled to the ground.
At this point, with slightly over three minutes left to play, Browns fans are heading to the exits in earnest. Only a fourth of seats are currently filled. The clock winds down towards three minutes as the Bengals start handing the ball off to Rudi Johnson, who starts chewing up chunks of clock and yardage and the game winds to close, as does this narrative.
FINAL SCORE: BENGALS 27, BROWNS 13