The argument could easily be made the Browns have not been the same team since they last visited Cincinnati for the 15th game of the 2007 season. A victory over the Bengals would have clinched a playoff spot. Instead, Derek Anderson threw four interceptions on a cold, snowy, windy day on the banks of the Ohio River and the Browns lost, 19-14.
Weather should not be a factor when the Browns return to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday -- at least snow won't be a factor -- but the Browns are still looking for traction. After losing in Cincinnati last year, the Browns closed out 2007 by beating San Francisco, 20-7, in a meaningless game in which Chris Weinke was the 49ers' quarterback. Since then, the Browns have lost seven straight -- four in the 2008 preseason and then the first three of the regular season. The Ravens kept them winless in the regular season by pounding the Browns, 28-10, coincidentally the same score as the loss to Dallas in the opener.
If anything positive could be found in that loss in Cincinnati last year, it is offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski learned he should call more run plays when the situation calls for it.
"I'm not big into the depth charts and all of those kinds of things," Chudzinski said. "What I've talked to these guys about is showing and demonstrating on a daily basis that they have a special ability to do something.
"Our first goal is to do whatever it takes to win for the team, however that ends up coming out -- whether that's scoring a lot of points or running the football."
Had he called more running plays in Cincinnati last year, the Browns might have beaten the Bengals and clinched a playoff spot. Instead, on a cold, blustery day with a wind chill of 18 degrees and winds gusting to 30 mph, Chudzinski called for Derek Anderson to throw 48 times.
Jamal Lewis carried 21 times. Lewis averaged 4.4 yards a carry, so it wasn't like he was being stymied. Had the play-calling been different, perhaps fans wouldn't be asking whether Anderson could win a big game.
But what's done is done. Another day of Lewis averaging close to 4.5 yards a game against the Bengals would be a shot in the arm to a run offense that has had its problems this year. Lewis carried just 19 times against the Steelers, averaging two yards a carry. He was a marked man against the Ravens, his former team. And because the Browns fell behind 28-10 with 4:49 left in the third quarter against the Ravens, he carried the ball only 12 times in Baltimore.
A hamstring injury knocked Lewis out of the final two preseason games and he suffered a minor ankle injury against the Steelers. He played in the first three regular-season games, but he is not 100 percent. He will play against the Bengals and then use the bye next week as a chance to recover.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know whether we're trying to live off the success we had last year, but it's not working. We're going to have to do a lot better, or this thing is really going to get away from us." -- Browns head coach Romeo Crennel, on the 0-3 start.
LINEUP WATCH: The Browns used only two combinations on the starting offensive line all last season. They already used three combinations in the first three games this year. Seth McKinney started at left guard against the Ravens because Eric Steinbach missed the game with a shoulder injury. Steinbach might sit out the game against Cincinnati as well since the Browns have their bye the following week.