Browns-Bengals: Report Card

Okay, these grades are a lot better. Congrats, Browns, you're no longer grounded and you can play the XBox after you're done with your homework...

When will the Cleveland Browns win their first game of the season?

If it doesn't happen Sunday in Buffalo, it might have to wait until the bye week. That's because what had seemed like an easy schedule for the Browns is shaping up to be very difficult.

The Browns are 0-4, and they have lost to teams that are 13-2 (with Minnesota scheduled to play Monday night). This weekend, the Browns play the 1-3 Bills.

"They're a lot better team than they're given credit for," Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said of the Browns.

Following the game in Buffalo are trips to Pittsburgh and Chicago sandwiched around a home game against Green Bay. There isn't a losing record in that group -- and the next two road trips mean the Browns will have played four games on the road in five weeks.

That's not easy for any team, much less one trying to find itself. The Browns did a pretty good job competing against Cincinnati in Sunday's overtime loss, but the game was not well played with both teams playing to the same level of competition.

Browns coach Eric Mangini gushed after the loss that his team had competed and played well. He was half right, but in the world that is the Browns right now any competitive game becomes a good game.

The challenge this weekend is to turn that competitive game into a victory.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Derek Anderson might have secured the quarterback job for the rest of the season following his 269-yard, one-touchdown game against the Bengals.

The Browns offense ran smoother against Cincinnati than it had in any of Brady Quinn's starts, though part of that certainly was related to the fact that Anderson faced the Bengals.

Quinn's starts came against the league's 2nd-, 3rd- and 9th-ranked defenses. Anderson's came against Cincinnati, which is ranked 17.

Even with that, Anderson threw the ball better and downfield more than Quinn did in all his starts combined. He threw an interception at the goal line, which is what he does. But his play was more than solid.

--KR Josh Cribbs returned to the role where he is most valuable: As a returner and occasional offensive player.

Cribbs' value to the Browns was never more evident. He totaled 223 yards in punt and kickoff returns, and changed the tone of the game with a 58-yard return following Cincinnati's first score.

Cribbs is among the two or three best in the league, and when he can concentrate on returns and not having to play receiver every down he's more valuable.

"Talk about a guy that wills the return to happen," coach Eric Mangini said.

The Browns as a team operate better when Cribbs is giving the offense field position. He can still operate out of the "Wildcat," but his greatest value to the offense and the team is as a returner.


PLAYER NOTES

--WR Mohammed Massaquoi emerged given the chance to play every down. Massaquoi caught eight passes for 148 yards. He didn't drop any, and seemed to relish the role as No.2 receiver. He should have been there from the opening game, but his play will open things up for the offense.

--WR Braylon Edwards was shut out on catches for the first time in his career. Derek Anderson threw five passes his way. Edwards dropped two and three were overthrows. Edwards still affected the game, though, as the Bengals rolled their coverage toward him, opening things up for Mohammed Massaquoi.

--RB Jerome Harrison played extremely well as the Browns' primary running back, gaining 121 yards on 29 carries and catching five passes for 31 yards. Harrison had been considered too small to be an every-down back, but his play might prompt Jamal Lewis' hamstring to heal a little quicker. Harrison looked confident, quick and strong.

--WR Mike Furrey had four receptions and broke up a pass as he played both ways. Furrey, who once played safety in St. Louis, played safety in sub packages and broke up one fourth-quarter pass.

--DT Shaun Rogers took four points from the Bengals by blocking a field goal and an extra point. His extra point block sent the game to overtime. Rogers is an amazing presence in the middle, but the kicks did not seem very high. It's not like Rogers can leap like LeBron James.


REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS

PASSING OFFENSE: B -- The return of Derek Anderson meant the Browns passing offense returned as well. Anderson played well, throwing for a touchdown and interception and 269 yards. Anderson got Mohammed Massaquoi involved, he got the downfield passing game going and he made adjustments that worked. His deep throw down the sideline to Massaquoi that set up the first touchdown looked like an audible. Anderson looks infinitely more confident in the pocket than Brady Quinn did. The only negative: Anderson had to throw 48 passes to gain his 269 yards, which made his per-attempt average 5.6 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Much credit to Jerome Harrison, who got the running back job by default and responded with an outstanding game. Jamal Lewis and James Davis were hurt, so the Browns had to go to with Harrison for the entire game. He responded with 121 yards. More important, he held up to a heavy workload with 29 carries. Harrison has always been viewed as a change-of-pace back, but against Cincinnati he ran hard, ran tough and ran well. This loss could be the game when the Browns swing their run offense Harrison's way.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- There were times when the Browns seemed to control the game. In the middle two quarters, Cincinnati's offense went seven possessions without a first down. But early and late the Browns secondary could not come up with a play. Cincinnati broke the first-down drought with a conversion on third-and-14 and then scored a touchdown on a fourth-and-goal pass from the 2. In overtime the secondary lost track of Carson Palmer, whose scramble set up the game-winning field goal.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- Does Palmer's scramble go on the pass or run defense? Says here it's on the pass defense because part of pass defense is keeping the quarterback contained, especially on fourth-and-11. The Bengals ran for 154 yards, but none seemed to do a lot of damage until the fourth quarter, when the Bengals started gashing the defense for long runs on the drive that tied the game. Bottom line: When the Browns most needed a stop, they couldn't come up with one.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Because of one man: Josh Cribbs, whose value to the team in the return game can't be measured. Cribbs accounted for more than 200 yards in returns, time and again changing the field position and momentum. Cribbs is probably the best pure football player on the Browns. When utilized properly he is probably the team's most valuable player.

COACHING: D -- Eric Mangini had his team ready to play, but a couple very questionable on-field decisions hurt the Browns chances to win. Prime was a decision to take a defensive timeout with 2:02 left and Cincinnati lining up for a play in complete disarray. Instead of waiting for the two-minute warning, Mangini signaled for the Browns last timeout. He easily could have waited. Instead, he panicked and used a timeout the Browns badly needed on their last drive. That drive ended at the Cincinnati 40 with 19 seconds left. Mangini punted. Why not go for it the way the Bengals did in overtime? Mangini deserves credit for pulling the team together and having it ready to play. Unfortunately he did not serve his team well during the game on the sidelines.


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