Browns-Bengals: Play of the Game

The Browns owned the second half until the Bengals re-discovered a hole in the Browns defense. From then on, it was Carson Palmer's day. When did it turn around? Steve King sets it up, and Lane Adkins breaks it down...

A play of the game?

There are a lot of candidates – for both teams – in a contest such as the one Sunday in which the Cincinnati Bengals edged the Browns 23-20 in overtime at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

After going through three previous games where absolutely nothing went right, and then experiencing a déjà vu, here-we-go-again start on Sunday in which they fell behind 14-0 early in the second quarter, there were any number of big plays that showed that the last thing the Browns were going to do was give up.

For the Bengals, this trap game – one against a winless foe that was tucked in between contests against big-time AFC North opponents Pittsburgh and Baltimore – saw them go into a funk after that quick start against the Browns. Yet, they kept hanging in there, even though it was by merely a thread – and a frayed one at that – for much of the time.

But since it's the Bengals who won, and their offense that ultimately got them there by driving 67 yards in 13 plays for Shayne Graham's 31-yard game-winning field goal with four seconds left in OT, you have to look to find the Cincinnati offensive play that really made the difference.

In controlling the early part of the game by slicing and dicing the Browns defense with 16- to 18-yard crossing routes in the passing attack, the Bengals went away from that for the next 2½ quarters for whatever reason. Coaches constantly out-think themselves at all levels of football by eschewing common sense and trying to re-invent the wheel, and the Cincinnati offensive minds certainly did so in this one.

But fortunately for the Bengals, they went back to it – almost before it was too late.

Falling behind 20-14 as their offense sputtered and started looking like that of the Browns through the first three games, the Bengals took over at their 30 with 6:27 remaining in the fourth quarter. It was more of the same on the first two plays as Carson Palmer threw incomplete to running back Cedric Benson on a short route over the middle, then watched as Benson got tackled for a four-yard loss by cornerback Mike Adams.

That set up a do-or-die, third-and-14 situation from the 26. The Bengals picked that play to call a crossing route. As had been the case earlier, it was wide open as Palmer hit a streaking Chris Henry, who beat Adams for a 16-yard gain and a critical first down at the 42. - SK

* * *

The Cincinnati offense was very methodical in the process of clearing the field between the hash-marks, especially in the first quarter against the Browns on Sunday.

Such clearing routes, like the one run when WR Chris Henry hauled in a Carson Palmer pass late in the fourth quarter, were executed to perfection.

During this specific play, the Bengals ran the outside receivers deep, crossed a TE across the intermediate zone to occupy the safety and move the LB out of the passing lane, leaving a void in the defense. Henry found the opening and Palmer threw an accurate pass for the
completion.

Following a first quarter which the Bengals moved the ball at will, the Browns defense adjusted to the short crossing zone attempts. In moving the safeties up and stretching the drops used by the team's linebackers, the open zones available earlier to the Bengals were squeezed.

Thus, Palmer and the Cincinnati offense looked to exploit some of the man coverage the Browns played. With the Browns squeezing inside the hash-marks, Palmer's timing was disrupted due to the Browns pass rush, leaving timing with wide receivers on the out-patterns in disarray. Until the fourth quarter... - LA

* * *

You could just feel the potent Bengals offense being re-born right then, its confidence back. And at the same time, you could just feel the Browns defense being put back onto its heels for the first time in a long time.

Cincinnati marched right down the field and finally scored a TD with 1:55 left when Palmer scrambled around and found wide receiver Chad Ochocinco in the back of the end zone on a desperate fourth-and-2 play. The only reason that wasn't the game-winner is that Shaun Rogers blocked Graham's extra point, keeping the score at 20-20 and eventually forcing the teams into OT.

Though it took nearly a quarter more for it to happen, the Bengals offense wore down the Browns defense. Both units on both teams, in fact, were gassed at the end of the game, but the Bengals were left standing, wobbling though they were.

The Bengals came to a crossroads and found their way down the right path with crossing routes. If they had stayed down that path all along, then it wouldn't have come down to that.

As for the Browns, with season continuing to drift away from them, they're at a crossroads, too.

Again.

Still.    

- SK


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