Browns D Steps up in 20-7 Win

David Carducci recaps the Browns win over the Bengals at Cleveland Browns Stadium. With the Ravens and Steelers losing on Sunday, the Browns now find themselves alone in possession of first place in the AFC North. <I>REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION OF THE RECORD-COURIER</I>

CLEVELAND - The Cleveland Browns defense was tired of the ridicule.

They were tired of hearing about the 40 points they surrendered in last week's season opener. They were sick of listening to criticism that they could not slow down a good running back. Most of all, they were fed up with being a national joke after the bizarre circumstances surrounding their opening-week loss.

Yes, Dwayne Rudd kept his helmet on, and yes, the Browns defense finally lived up to some of its preseason hype in a 20-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

"I think the leaders of the defense were fed up," said Browns coach Butch Davis. "I think that at some point in time, players get sick of all the criticism and say, to heck with what everyone is saying, writing and talking about, we are going to play."

The Browns defense played without defensive end Courtney Brown, who sat out with a strained muscle in his neck. In his absence, the Browns may have found a new defensive leader - Mark Word.

In his first NFL start, Word replaced Brown at right end and recorded three sacks of Bengals quarterback Gus Frerotte, including two in the game's final minute to spoil any hopes Cincinnati had of a miracle comeback.

The biggest hit on Frerotte, however, was provided by Browns defensive tackle Orpheus Roye in the closing seconds of the first half.

With the Bengals driving deep into Browns' territory, Roye bull-rushed past Bengals guard Matt O'Dwyer, hitting Frerotte at the 25-yard line. As Frerotte struggled to avoid being slammed to the turf, he frantically flipped a pass with his left hand.

Bad decision. The only player even close to the throw was Browns defensive end Kenard Lang, who intercepted the pass and rumbled 71 yards down the right sideline to the Bengals 8-yard line.

"That was a big play," said Lang. "At that point, we are winning 10-0, and they were ready to score. It could have been 10-3 or even 10-7 at the half ... He shouldn't have thrown that ball. It felt like Christmas out there and I got my own little present ... I really thought I was going to score."

Frerotte kept Lang from scoring, running down the 285-pound end with 30 seconds remaining in the half. He only delayed a touchdown, however. Two plays later, Kelly Holcomb connected with Kevin Johnson on an 8-yard slant for a touchdown that gave the Browns a 17-0 halftime lead.

"You talk about a huge emotional swing right before the half," said Davis. "The key was (Roye). He collapsed the pocket and put heat on the quarterback and (Lang) was fortunate to be there. It was a huge play. That was a great psychological lift heading into the locker room. It was a huge play."

The play by Roye and Warren was the highlight of a defensive effort that, while far from perfect, was good enough to secure a win. The Browns once again struggled against a top-flight running back, surrendering 108 yards on 22 carries by Bengals star Corey Dillon.

The defense did manage several defensive plays, leading to scores that forced the Bengals to go away from Dillon and a consistently effective running attack.

The only score the Browns surrendered was a 22-yard touchdown pass from Frerotte to Charles Johnson with 6:27 remaining in the game.

Frerotte completed by 26-of-47 passes for 236 yards, but was intercepted three times - one on a diving catch by Browns linebacker Brant Boyer. The acrobatic interception set up a 45-yard field goal by Phil Dawson that gave the Browns a commanding 20-0 lead with 10:03 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Dawson opened the game by booming a 52-yard field goal on the Browns' opening drive. The two kicks by extended Dawson's streak of consecutive field goals to 21 - just two shy of the all-time team record owned by Matt Stover.

Kelly Holcomb (17-of-30, 198 yards, 2 touchdowns) had his second consecutive productive start at quarterback in place of the injured Tim Couch. In his two starting assignments, Holcomb connected on 44-of-69 passes for 524 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. One of those scores was a 15-yard pass to rookie Andre Davis, capping an 8-play, 67-yard drive and giving the Browns their 10-0 lead late in the second quarter.

Despite his fine play, Holcomb said he is prepared to surrender the reins of the offense when if Couch's right elbow is healthy enough to allow him to start in Tennessee next week.

"If that's what happens, that's what happens," said Holcomb. "That is what I was called in to do. I was called in to do two games ... I don't know what will happen. Tim says he will be ready, so we'll see."

Davis has said for two weeks that Couch would be the starter as soon as he is 100-percent healthy.

"I wouldn't be human if I said it didn't bother me, but the realistic point of view is, that's my job," said Holcomb.

The victory gave the Browns (1-1) sole possession of first place in the AFC North Division. With Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati all losing, the Browns are the only team in the division with a victory after two weeks.

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