Anyone predicting the Browns offense was about to explode heading into Week 2 might have been visited by nice young men in white coats and ticketed for the old rubber room.
The only bright spot emerging from the opening game debacle against Pittsburgh was that it lowered expectations that were not exactly lofty to begin with.
Yes, the Bengals were defensively challenged. Yes, the Browns still boasted some explosive talent. But embattled starting quarterback Charlie Frye had been banished to Seattle and replaced by Derek Anderson, who reminded no one of Johnny Unitas during the preseason.
Though he received a vote of confidence from his teammates in a players-only meeting on Monday, the offense was simply making too many mistakes to be considered on the verge of a breakout game.
One fellow who hoped the doomsayers were in for a shock was left guard Eric Steinbach, who was preparing to face his old teammates after having signed a free agent contract with the Browns during the offseason. Along with first-round pick Joe Thomas, he was lured to Cleveland to bolster what had been a woeful offensive line.
Steinbach, however, cautioned that strengthening the front is meaningless when the Browns commit five turnovers, as they did against the Steelers.
"That's what I was excited to come here and do – to get the offensive line set up," Steinbach told clevelandbrowns.com. "If we get an offensive line together and stay healthy and play together that's what kind of sets the tone for the team.
"If we want to set the tone early we have to come out and get the running game going and protect the quarterback. And if we eliminate the turnovers, that's the biggest part. If you turn the ball over five times you don't give yourself a chance to win."
Even against the Bengals, whose deterioration began in 2006 and appeared to be continuing. But if anyone thought Steinbach could pick up on play calls simply because he had spent his career in a Cincinnati uniform, they had another think coming.
"The most important thing I can offer is knowing personnel," he added. "The calls they had last year I've already forgotten or they've changed them up. As far as breaking down guys and giving tips, that's about all the knowledge you can pass on."
Steinbach and his teammates couldn't concern themselves with stealing play calls from the Bengals. They were busy trying to correct the mistakes that had turned Week 1 into a disaster.
Little could anyone have imagined how successful they would be.
Some expected baby steps for the Browns' offense on this Sunday.
What they got was a Bob Beamon leap.
A 51-45 victory.
In the immortal words of Casey Stengel, who'da thunk it?
The first shot in the shootout was fired by the Bengals on a 13-yard scoring strike from Carson Palmer to Rudi Johnson, but the Browns responded with two field goals and a 17-yard touchdown pass from Anderson to Joe Jurevicius that provided their first lead of the season.
The North Division rivals traded touchdowns twice more in the first half. Cincinnati tallied on a 23-yard pass from Palmer to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but Cleveland answered with another Anderson-to-Jurevicius hookup that was made possible by an 85-yard kickoff return by Joshua Cribbs.
Back came the Bengals, who scored on a 22-yard pass from Palmer to brash Chad Johnson. And back came the Browns, who snagged a 27-21 lead on a 25-yard touchdown heave from Anderson to Winslow.
Following a Cincinnati field goal, the Browns widened their advantage when Edwards snagged a 34-yard pass from Anderson. Johnson scored again, but Lewis rumbled 66 yards for his first touchdown with the Browns to make it 41-31.
Undaunted, the Bengals sliced it to 41-38 on another Palmer-to-Houshmandzadeh score, but the Browns came back yet again when Edwards hauled in a 37-yard pass from Anderson to stretch the lead to 48-38.
Hearts raced a bit faster at Cleveland Browns Stadium when Palmer hit Glenn Holt for a score, then the Bengals got the ball back with a chance to win with 1:13 remaining in the game. But Cleveland cornerback Leigh Bodden intercepted a Palmer pass in Browns territory to clinch the victory and set off a celebration.
Football fans from Florida to Alaska were stunned at the 51-point performance by the Browns, who were quite pleasantly surprised themselves. And though they understood that they had plenty of work to do, particularly on defense, they would savor the moment as the media converged following the game.
It was an hour after the final second had ticked off the clock. And Anderson was still clutching the football from the game.
Who could blame him?
Anderson silenced his critics – at least temporarily – with a brilliant performance in defeating Cincinnati in the highest-scoring Browns game ever played in Cleveland.
"I had a lot of fun out there today," Anderson told the Plain Dealer.
So did his receivers, beneficiaries of Anderson's hot hand. Edwards, emerging as a Pro Bowl receiver, racked up 146 yards and two touchdowns. Winslow added 100 yards and a touchdown while Jurevicius scored twice.
"We just wanted to tell (Anderson), ‘We're behind you. You didn't win this job by default.'" Edwards said following the game. "He relaxed and had fun."
Added Jurevicius: "Derek did an unbelievable job. I wasn't liking it when he was getting booed."
The performance of Lewis played a huge role in the success of the passing game. The Bengals were forced to play the run, which they did quite unsuccessfully. Lewis' 216-yard explosion reminded many of the 295-yard game that set an NFL record against the Browns in 2003, the year he exceeded 2,000 yards.
"What happened today kind of took me back to 2003," Lewis told reporters. "This is the first time since then that I have played like that."
Not that the ultraconfident Lewis didn't believe it was possible. It's just that until it happens, there remains a shadow of a doubt.
"It's one thing to do it in shorts and practice," he said. "It's another thing entirely to do it in a game. I had a slow start. There was some tough sledding. But (offensive line) coach (Steve) Marshall made some adjustments, and that got us going."
So did a few words of encouragement from Edwards, who exclaimed to Lewis during the game, "Let's run it. Let's go get this thing."
"It was good to hear him say that," Lewis added.
And it was good to see Browns coach Romeo Crennel enter his post-game press conference with a wide smile. After all, he had just experienced his second division victory in 14 attempts.
"Both offenses were making tremendous plays," he told the assembled media. "Cincinnati, historically, has killed us. But today we had a lot of support from our offense."
And who would have predicted that 24 hours earlier? Nobody but the guy destined for the rubber room.