The coming out party for the Browns offense was on Sept. 16 in a home game against the Bengals, and except for a few bumps along the way the party has never stopped.
The rematch against the Bengals is Sunday in Paul Brown Stadium. The Browns would finish 4-2 in the AFC North if they win. In Romeo Crennel's first two years as head coach the Browns were 1-11 in the division.
Preseason predictions had the Browns finishing in the AFC North basement again and the Bengals contending for a playoff spot. With two games left the teams have flopped positions, and all because of the surprising success of quarterback Derek Anderson, the good health of Kellen Winslow Jr., Braylon Edwards, Jamal Lewis and the offensive line plus the play-calling of first-year offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
Players are already resigning themselves to the notion Chudzinski might not be their offensive coordinator for long. Whether the Falcons contact him after this season or he gets a job offer after 2008 or beyond, the players he coaches are convinced Chudzinski has potential to be a head coach.
"He's a young coach in the league, but along with that you see how good he will be because he is so young," wide receiver Joe Jurevicius said. "He definitely has potential. He has a vision and he sticks to his vision. I think that's a quality of a leader. He leads us on what he expects us to do and how he'd like to see us do it. I think that plays a big role in our success."
Tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. agreed. Winslow knows Chud as well as anybody because from 2001-2003 Chudzinski was Winslow's offensive coordinator and tight ends coach at the University of Miami. He was also Winslow's tight ends coach with the Browns in 2004, but Winslow's rookie season ended after two games because his right leg was broken and his right ankle ligaments were torn while trying to recover an onside kick in Dallas. Chudzinski coached the San Diego tight ends in 2005 and '06.
"He commands respect and the guys listen to him," Winslow said. "His leadership skills are up there with the best. It won't be long at all until Chud is a head coach.
"I think he's ready. He's a great coach. There are a lot of great coaches. It's all about timing."
In his first year calling plays the Browns are close to breaking three significant team records -- points scored (record 415, 368 points scored with two games left); touchdown passes (record 30 by Brian Sipe in 1980, 26 thrown by Derek Anderson) and touchdowns by a receiver (Braylon Edwards tied Gary Collins' team record of 13 set in 1963).
Jamal Lewis has rushed for nine touchdowns, the most by a Browns runner since Kevin Mack rushed for 10 in 1986. The last time a Browns rusher scored more than 10 touchdowns was 1968 when Leroy Kelly scored 16 times on the ground.
BENGALS DEFENSE STRUGGLES AGAINST SF
A poor showing by the Bengals defense in a loss to the offensively-challenged 49ers has again stirred major questions about the legitimacy of the five-game run of solid performances by the defense.
The 49ers, who had the NFL's lowest-ranked offense in terms of points and total yards, scored 20 points and accumulated 337 yards of offense, all with a third-string quarterback -- Shaun Hill -- making his first NFL start.
The Browns will visit Cincinnati for an AFC North game Dec. 23. The Browns entered their Week 15 game against Buffalo on pace for single-season franchise records in points and yards. The Bengals need look nowhere else than the game Sept. 16 at Cleveland for motivation. The Browns scored 51 in a six-point victory and amassed 554 yards.
Through Week 14, the Browns offense was ranked ninth in total offense and fifth in points per game. With their 8-0 victory Sunday against Buffalo, which upped their record to 9-5, the Browns have scored 368 points through 14 games -- already the most for a Browns team since 1987.
The Bengals flew to California with nothing but the 49ers in their sights but lost 20-13. In the previous five games, the Bengals had allowed just 73.2 yards rushing a game and 270 yards overall. The 49ers came into the game last in scoring (13.2 points a game) and total offense (235.6 yards a game).
There are personnel decisions to make. Four of the team's defensive starters will be unrestricted free agents: safety Madieu Williams, linebackers Landon Johnson and Dhani Jones and end Justin Smith. Defensive end Bryan Robinson and injured linebacker Caleb Miller, a third-round pick in 2004, also will be UFAs.
And there are questions about the defensive coaching staff. In February 2006, the Bengals announced a two-year contract extension for head coach Marvin Lewis through the 2010 season. The club also said that Lewis' entire staff had been signed through the 2007 season.
Changes could be in the offing for what has been one of the NFL's most stable staffs in recent years, reversing a years-long trend when Cincinnati was a revolving coaching door.
Most of the possible turnover could take place on the defensive side of the ball with position coaches Jay Hayes (line), Ricky Hunley (linebackers) and Kevin Coyle (secondary) -- not to mention three-year coordinator Chuck Bresnahan -- all potentially on the outs. The Bengals had just one staff move prior to the 2007 season, when Mike Sheppard replaced Hue Jackson, who left to become offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons.
The loss was the ninth for the 5-9 Bengals, sending the franchise to its 12th losing season in the past 17 years. San Francisco improved to 4-10.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis also has experienced his first losing season in five with the Bengals.
"Every time we lose it's disappointing to me," Lewis said after the game. "We have to score more touchdowns. Only one time in the past seven games have we scored touchdowns the way we can."
The Bengals failed to win consecutive games for the first time this season and dropped to 1-6 on the road.
After the Browns, on Dec. 30 at Miami, the Bengals play the Dolphins, who defeated Baltimore in overtime Sunday for their first victory in 14 games.
--Jamal Lewis rushed for 163 yards against the Bills, giving him 1,084 for the season.
--LB Andra Davis had six tackles, two of them behind the line of scrimmage.
--QB Derek Anderson completed only 9 of 24 passes in a swirling snow, but he did not turn the ball over.
--Because the Browns shut out of Buffalo, Joshua Cribbs' only kick return was on the opening kickoff. He ran it back 26 yards.
--K Phil Dawson made field goals of 35 and 49 yards. He started the 49-yard kick about 10 yards left of the left upright. The wind brought the ball back in and over the crossbar.