It's a game Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis would like to forget, but can't.
Browns 51, Bengals 45 at Cleveland on Sept. 16, 2007, in the second game of the season.
After losing an open quarterback competition during training camp and the preseason – to a local player, Charlie Frye – Derek Anderson was pulled off the scrap heap and given his first start to help revive a struggling offense, and team. He did, to the tune of 20-of-33 passing for 328 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception.
Two years later, Anderson, after losing out to another local player, Brady Quinn, in an open competition in camp and the preseason, is being called on again to resuscitate the points-starved – and winless (0-3) -- Browns against Cincinnati on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"He did a good job that day. It led him to getting a big contract at the end of the year," Lewis said in a conference call with the Cleveland media on Wednesday.
Then, just to show how much it did – and still does – bother him, he said, "We were one interception away (at the end of the game) from him not being in the job. But we're a long way from that now."
Are they? The Bengals and Browns will find that out on Sunday.
Lewis seems right in one sense. The club two years ago had more talent, at least on paper, but these Bengals seem to be on much more of a mission – and are more focused -- than was his 2007 team. The Bengals, shell-shocked that anyone, especially a Browns team that had scored all of one touchdown in a 27-point loss to Pittsburgh a week earlier, could ring up 51 on them, collapsed after losing that game in Cleveland, dropping four straight and six of seven. A team that was expected to bounce back from a sub-par 8-8 finish in 2006 and be more like the 11-5, AFC North championship club of 2005, staggered to a 7-9 record only because of three after-the-fact triumphs in its last four games.
This Bengals team has already faced adversity – big-time adversity – and overcome it. A tipped 87-yard TD pass by the Broncos at the end of the opener stole what seemed to be a sure-fire Bengals win and instead gave it to Denver, 12-7.
"Same ol' Bengals," everybody said.
They were still saying it when the Green Bay Packers, after falling behind 7-0, came back to lead the Bengals 14-7 and 21-14 before Cincinnati rallied for a 31-24 – at Lambeau Field, no less.
Nonetheless, everybody continued to say, "Same ol' Bengals," when, last Sunday, the Steelers vaulted to a 13-0 lead and then were up 20-9 after three quarters. But the Bengals put on a dramatic comeback to win 23-20 on a TD with just 14 seconds left, giving them their first triumph over the Steelers in Cincinnati in eight years.
The Packers in Lambeau. The defending Super Bowl champion Steelers anywhere, but especially in Cincinnati. The two biggest back-to-back wins for the Bengals under Lewis – maybe even for the Bengals, period, since way back in their second Super Bowl season of 1988?
"I don't think so," Lewis said dryly. "It was good to win those games, but it's on to the next one."
Lewis obviously doesn't not want to put any unnecessary burden on his still-developing team, but the fact of the matter is that these Bengals are indeed different – in a good way.
They've finally changed the culture in Cincinnati then, right?
Uh, that would be no, again.
"I don't believe in culture," Lewis said. "When I was with the Ravens, they said you could never do this or that in Baltimore. Then you turn around and we're Super Bowl champions.
"It's all about making football plays."
The Bengals are making them now. The Browns aren't, which is another reason why, at least on paper, both teams are a long way now from where they were in early 2007.
Browns head coach Eric Mangini, whom Lewis considers a good friend, is struggling in his first year in Cleveland, just as Lewis has struggled from time to time since becoming Bengals head coach in 2003. Lewis is hoping – and expecting – Mangini to weather the storm, just as he has done in Cincinnati. Lewis is now in his eighth year, which is impressive in a league where owners change coaches about as regularly as they socks.
"He's a good coach," said Lewis, who worked with Mangini in 1996 in Baltimore. "If you stick to your guns and keep at it, then all of sudden, things click and you get going. That's how it is. That's how it was here."
One of those times came this season after that devastating opening day loss. The fact Cincinnati has found a way to get past that is evidence that a repeat of 2007 – as nice of a story as it would be for nice-guy Derek Anderson and the sputtering Browns – may be a lot, lot harder to come by this time around.