Rich's Rant: A Victory, But...

Did the Browns "turn a corner" during Sunday's win over the struggling Bengals? Hardly.

Lost in the euphoria of the Browns' first victory of the season Sunday is the stark realization that this team still has long way to go before even approaching the lofty status it achieved last season.

Granted, the victory over the Cincinnati Bengals was a baby step in a season where giant steps were expected. And granted, it no doubt helped save Romeo Crennel from possibly adding the word "former" to his position as head coach.

There are far too many problems the Browns need to overcome in order to begin the long climb back to respectability. Sure, they should feel good about beating the Bengals. But overconfidence should not be a problem during the bye week.

Not when the Browns slog through the better part of three quarters with an offense that seemed stuck in neutral. And certainly not when they continue to administer self-inflicted wounds that would have cost them the game against a better opponent.

You'd think, for example, that the defensive line by now would learn where the neutral zone is and stay out of it. There is no excuse for lining up in that zone four times. That's discipline. Or lack of it.

Nope, no corners were turned in this one. At least not yet. Many of the blemishes remain. Enjoy the good feeling for now. Then take a hard look and realize this is still a mistake-prone team.

It got away with several against the winless Bengals. It won't be as lucky against better teams, which right now might be just about every other team in the National Football League.

The Browns had to work hard to keep from going 0-4 and still it took a huge slice of good fortune in order to place them in a position to beat a pretty bad team playing with its starting quarterback injured and unavailable.

Crennel should add Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom to his Christmas card list. If Odom doesn't scream across the line of scrimmage ahead of the snap on a third-and-3 at the Cleveland 44 late in the third quarter, the Browns, trailing by three at the time, very well might have lost this one.

Odom's premature takeoff wiped out Derek Anderson's second interception of the afternoon, this one by David Jones on a terrible throw, and gave the Browns a first down near midfield. A portent of things to come, as it turned out, as the Browns turned it into just their third touchdown of the season and a lead they never relinquished.

Only Crennel knows why he stuck with Anderson when he easily and justifiably could have turned to Brady Quinn in the second half. No one would have objected. Anderson was clearly struggling. But the coach, for whatever reason, had more belief in Anderson than he deserved. One more chance, Crennel called it.

It was one area Anderson did not want to visit in the post-game celebration. He became awfully defensive when asked if he felt pressure with his job on the line. "No," he warned. "Don't go there."

The vote of confidence seemed to invigorate the quarterback. He began making throws reminiscent of last season. His 20-yard strike to Kellen Winslow Jr. following a Bengals turnover early in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty and led to the touchdown that put the Browns up, 17-6.

Where has that Derek Anderson been this season?

The major portion of credit for this victory, however, belongs to the new-look – at least for now – defense. And it looks as though that defense, which introduced a new – and very welcome – style of play against the Bengals, will have to take the starring role and carry the club because the offense shows very few signs of adding to the enjoyment.

The star of last season has turned into a stuttering, stumbling mess, playing in a fashion reminiscent of a punch-drunk fighter. Anderson, it appears, has turned into Charlie Frye with his careless distribution of the football.

You could see offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski trying to mix it up to shake his men out of their doldrums with some new wrinkles: Misdirection plays, quick pitches, a direct snap to Joshua Cribbs. All it produced for the better part of three quarters was three points.

Braylon Edwards' up close and personal conversation with Anderson late in the third quarter, caught by the eaves-dropping eye of the television camera, only served to heighten the frustration that certainly has been more than palpable on that side of the ball this season.

Sure, Anderson and Edwards later hooked up on a touchdown reception, but one has to wonder how much damage was done as the result of the dustup. One score doesn't necessarily make it go away.

What surprised Sunday was the defense. More specifically, the aggressive manner in which it performed. We haven't seen that much aggression and emotion from a Cleveland defense in who knows how long. How refreshing. Especially the four turnovers. That's more like it.

Of course the Browns faced a quarterback with just a handful of starts in the NFL. But it was gratifying to see that defense dictate the pace for a change with a variety of blitz packages that kept Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick off balance.

It arrived Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium with an attitude and maintained it all afternoon. Hopefully, there's a lot more where that came from.

If that defense continues to play with the intensity it displayed Sunday and Mel Tucker continues to coordinate an attacking style, then maybe the club has a chance to make some noise in the AFC North.

Nevertheless, the hole the Browns have dug is still deep enough to be concerned. And they'll have to play a lot better than they did against the Bengals in order to climb out of their improbable rut.

Perhaps it was significant that this victory came against the team that ripped their playoff hopes to shreds in the penultimate game last season. Maybe, just maybe, this little piece of revenge will act as a springboard to what the Browns originally thought would be a return to glory last season.

They'll find out soon enough when the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants arrive for a Monday night date in a couple of weeks. It should be the ultimate litmus test.



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