A fantastic finish once again, but no storybook ending this time.
Not for the Browns at least.
However, for quarterback Derek Anderson and the Browns offense, it was a quantum leap forward after having taken a quantum leap backward in each of the previous three weeks.
Back to the future. Anderson got his first start of the season in 2007 against Cincinnati at home and passed for 328 yards and five touchdowns to help the Browns get their first win, an exciting 51-45 decision that went right down to the wire.
On Sunday against the Bengals back at Cleveland Browns Stadium, he got his first start of the year and played pretty well, throwing for 269 yards and a TD with one interception along with running one yard for a score. But it wasn't enough in a 23-20 overtime loss that dropped the Browns to 0-4, their worst start since 1999 when they were beaten in their first seven games.
In losing, though, the Browns can take solace in the fact their offense did more on Sunday than it had in the previous three games combined.
Rookie wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, who went into the game with just two catches for 31 yards, became the go-to man with eight receptions for 148 yards, both game highs. That was key, since the usual go-to man, wide receiver Braylon Edwards, had no receptions in a game for the first time in his five-year career.
Harrison, playing for the injured Jamal Lewis (hamstring), enjoyed the first 100-yard rushing game of his four-year career by getting 121 in 29 carries.
The offensive line, which had allowed 11 sacks, gave up just two and, as evidenced by Harrison's running, also did much better in opening holes in the ground game.
But as good as the line, Harrison and Massaquoi were – and they were all very good – the real catalyst in jump-starting the offense was the presence of Anderson. Really, he was the only main difference for an offense that, with Brady Quinn starting the first three games, had just 654 total yards -- combined. The Browns had 395 on Sunday and scored twice as many touchdowns – two -- than they had had all year. It was the team's best offensive performance since last Nov. 17 when the Browns edged the Buffalo Bills 29-27 on Monday Night Football.
"I played all right," said Anderson, who was 26-of-48 passing with the score and an interception for a better – but still not "passable" – 68.8 quarterback rating. "I got the guys going and we made some plays, but we still lost. I'm never happy when we lose."
The game started out disastrously for the Browns and, in particular, the offense. They ran just four offensive plays in the first quarter for 10 yards, or 146 less than the Bengals. As a result, just two plays into the second quarter, the Browns trailed 14-0.
The second score came as a result of one of two big offensive errors in the game by the Browns, a ball that was literally grabbed out of Harrison's hands on a run and returned 75 yards for a TD by defensive end Robert Geathers.
The other mistake was Anderson's pass to Heiden being intercepted at the goal line by cornerback Johnathan Joseph on a third-and-goal play from the Cincinnati 8 on the first series of the third quarter.
"It was just miscommunication between Steve and I," Anderson said.
Otherwise, though, the Browns offense played pretty well – certainly better than it had been playing.
"There were a lot of good things on offense," Browns head coach Eric Mangini said. "We got the running game going, and Mohamed showed his potential."
So did Anderson, just like he did against the Bengals in 2007.
He went to the Pro Bowl that year and the Browns finished 10-6 and nearly made the playoffs.
Neither of those things is likely to happen this year, but at least with Anderson at the helm, the Browns, especially on offense, were competitive for the first time this season. It made for a moral victory that the fans actually enjoyed watching, and in a season such as this one, that counts for something.CRIBBS SHEET: Failing to start at wide receiver for the first time this season, Joshua Cribbs did little on offense, getting just a five-yard catch and a 15-yard run on an end-around. But he was outstanding where he is always outstanding, as a returner on special teams. He averaged 34.3 yards on three kickoff returns, including a 58-yarder at the end of the first quarter that finally got the Browns offense going a little bit, and averaged an even 20 yards on six punt returns, including a 50-yarder midway through the fourth quarter that set up the Browns for Billy Cundiff's 31-yard field goal that gave them a 20-14 lead, and a 39-yarder late in the second quarter that set up his team for its first TD. Yes, yes, yes, the Browns should tear up Cribbs' contract and give him a new one.
THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT: The Browns drove to a first down at the Cincinnati 40 with 27 seconds left at the end of regulation, but three straight incomplete passes, the first of which was a spike to stop the clock, left them right there with 19 seconds remaining. They could have had Cundiff try a 57-yard field goal to win the game, but Mangini elected instead to punt the Bengals deep into their own territory and take his chances in overtime. "I would have felt better if we would have gotten a few yards on the play before that," Mangini said of his decision to eschew a field-goal try. "In no way am I trying to slight Billy, but with Phil (Dawson), maybe things would have been a little different." Still, Cundiff has played well for someone signed off the street to step in for Dawson while his injured calf heals. Cundiff has hit all three of his field-goal attempts and both of his extra-point tries. He outkicked the Bengals' Shayne Graham, who, despite being one of the most accurate field-goal kickers in NFL history, had both a field goal and extra point blocked, the second of which kept the Browns alive with the game tied at 20-20 and, in essence, forced OT. Graham's game-winner was a 31-yarder.BIG MAN, BIG PLAYS: Nose tackle Shaun Rogers, who has a long history of such, blocked both the field goal and the extra point, which may be a first in Browns history. The Browns are checking on it, but no one could recall when one player had blocked one of each in the same game.
SAME TIME, NEXT WEEK: The Bengals, who defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers a week ago, have now won two straight games by a 23-20 score. They also have a seven-point victory (31-24 over the Green Bay Packers) and a five-point loss (12-7 to the Denver Broncos). So even though they're 3-1, they've outscored their four foes just 84-76. The Browns have now been outscored 118-49.
20-20 HINDSIGHT: If the game had ended 20-20, which it almost did, of course, it would have been the first tie for the Browns since they and the Kansas City Chiefs played to a 10-10 standoff on Nov. 19, 1989 at Cleveland. Most of the Browns rookies were still in diapers then.
UP NEXT: Both teams are on the road next Sunday, the Browns meeting Buffalo and the Bengals opposing the 3-1 Baltimore Ravens in a battle for first place in the AFC North.
QUOTABLES: "It's tough when you win to come in and work hard every week, and it's even tougher to do that when you lose." – Mangini on the perseverance of his team.
"This was a tough one. But as I told the players, I couldn't be prouder of the way they played through five quarters." – Mangini on his club's effort.