Frankly Speaking: Bengals 27, Browns 13

Scattered out there, amidst the statistics, interviews, replays, and message boards is a pretty good indication of where the Browns stand. Frank Derry tries to assess the situation a day after the Browns season-opening loss to the Bengals...

So, what did you expect?

That Romeo Crennel was going to be able to wave a magic dog bone and have his team emulate his fellow former Patriots coordinator, Charlie Weis, and gain an upset victory in his first game as a head coach?

It would have been nice, but the reality of the matter is that the team Crennel took over, the Cleveland Browns, had a relatively empty cupboard, while Weis's Notre Dame Fighting Irish were very well stocked with talent left by Ty Willingham.

As usual, some fans went into the opening week with unrealistic expectations. They let their hearts overrule their heads.

Had the Browns been playing a sub-par team (re: the Chicago Bears), there would have been a realistic chance to pull off the upset.

But the Bengals, now in their second year with former No. 1 draft pick Carson Palmer directing the offense, looked every bit to be at least two years ahead of the Browns in the rebuilding process .

In reality, the Browns could have and probably even should have been closer than the final 27-13 margin would indicate. If not for penalties, Crennel's team would have scored two more touchdowns, one on a punt return Dennis Northcutt and another on an interception return by Leigh Bodden.

"It (the lost touchdowns) hurt, it really does," Crennel said. "That punt return would have given us a lot of momentum, but we had a penalty on that. Then we had another touchdown called back. What can we say?"

What you can say is that even if the Browns had gotten credit for those scores, the reality of the matter is the Bengals were the superior team in virtually every aspect of the game.

Palmer, going against a secondary that was playing its first-ever regular season game together, pretty much had a field day, hitting 26-of-34 for 280 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (that counted).

Absent from the starting lineup was veteran cornerback Gary Baxter, who is still nursing a concussion that he suffered early in the preseason. Daylon McCutheon, who missed most of the preseason with severe headaches, is the only starter returning to the backfield.

Overall, the defense showed it still has a long ways to go as it attempts to switch from the 4-3 used in the past to the 3-4 installed by Crennel. The Bengals ran up 420 yards on offense and had 26 first downs for the day.

Those numbers certainly weren't as bad as the 504 allowed by the Browns to the Bengals in their last meeting, that coming on Nov. 21 last year in Cincinnati. The Bengals rolled to a 58-48 victory in that game, which happened to be Butch Davis's last as Cleveland's head coach.

Some people thought that based upon the defense's relatively strong performance in the preseason, that things would be able to put up a better showing against the Bengals on Sunday. Crennel admits he wasn't convinced.

"I looked at that (preseason) with a jaded eye because no one played all of their starters," he said. "This was the first real test."

In the preseason, only Carolina scored more than 14 points against the Browns and, in the preseason finale, the defense dominated the Chicago Bears in a 16-6 Cleveland victory. That last game in particular was a very bad barometer because the Bears are a very mediocre team on offense.

Give the defense a `C' for its effort against the Bengals. It wasn't a total failure by any means, but there is definitely room for improvement.

In some ways, the final two-touchdown margin was a bit deceptive. On the one hand, the two lost touchdowns could have made a difference. But on the other hand, had it not been an ill-advised pass by Palmer that was picked off in the end zone with just over five minutes to play, the final score could have been a 21-point margin.

Defensively, the Bengals made life difficult for veteran Trent Dilfer, making his first start with the Browns, much of the day. Dilfer was 26 for 43 for 278 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

The Browns did get a solid performance out of running back Reuben Droughns, who rushed or 78 yards on 12 carries in his Browns debut. Overall, the Browns averaged 5.3 yards per carry, a number which will certainly be good enough to win a lot of games this year.

Interestingly, William Green, who appeared to be on equal footing for the running back job coming into the regular season, carried only four times for 12 yards. It'll be interesting to see what happens when Lee Suggs returns from his foot injury.

Dilfer took the blame for the interceptions. "The bottom line is that in his league, you cannot make mistakes. As a quarterback, you cannot throw interceptions and I threw two and lost a fumble. We cannot afford those types of mistakes. It's tough to win games in this league when you turn he ball over."

Crennel knows better than anyone that at this stage of the Browns' development, "as this team is situated right now," there is absolutely no room for error. "Half of the games in his league are decided by seven points or less," he pointed out.

In addition to the two interceptions, the Browns also fumbled three times, including once by rookie free agent Josh Cribbs on the game's opening kickoff. Fortunately, the Browns recovered but Cribbs didn't. It was his only return of the day. Droughns handled the last five.

From a positive standpoint Frisman Jackson stole the wide receiver spotlight from veteran Antonio Bryant and highly-touted Braylon Edwards.

Jackson, now in his fourth year with the Browns, caught a game-high eight passes for 128 yards, including a 68-yarder from Dilfer. Jackson says he would be glad to trade his lofty numbers for a victory.

"You know, I feel sick about it (losing)," Jackson said. "The numbers don't mean anything. The only thing that matters is wins and losss. We got the loss and that is how it goes."

Bryant had a solid game, collecting five passes for 65 yards, while Edwards managed just two catches for 16 yards.

Now, it's on to Green Bay for the Browns. It's a game the Browns could very well win because, at least based upon their performance in their season-opening loss to the Lions, the Packers are not a very good team.

However, playing at Lambeau Field will be a challenge. If the Browns can avoid turnovers, they could gain their first-ever victory under Crennel.

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