The Cincinnati Bengals first victory this season against the Cleveland Browns wasn't pretty, and neither was their latest, a 23-30 come-from-behind affair that once again featured the Bengals spotting an opponent to a halftime lead only to put the clamps down in the second half.
It was a huge win for Cincinnati, taking them to 7-4. A loss would have all but eliminated any division title hopes, and with the Jets and Titans both winning, would have taken Cincinnati out of the driver's seat for a wild card berth. For the Browns, who fell to 4-7, it essentially snuffed out any lingering post season dreams they might have had.
Like in week one, the Bengals won the toss and deferred, giving the Browns offense the first opportunity. Unlike week one, Cleveland moved the football. With Peyton Hillis picking up short yardage and Colt McCoy finding Jordan Norwood for 36 yards, the Browns were quickly in scoring position at the Bengals' 24. McCoy found Norwood again on third down when Nate Clements fell for the second time on the series, both resulting in big gains. The last one went 24 yards for a touchdown and the Browns led 7-0. The score was the first time all season Cleveland had found the end zone in the first quarter.
The Bengals offense sputtered out of the gate with a holding penalty putting them in a third and long. Then Andrew Hawkins converted, gaining 21 yards on a middle screen to keep the offense on the field. While the Browns continued to blitz and stack the box, Andy Dalton continued to find receivers on screens and crossing routes to move into Cleveland territory. That's when Cedric Benson broke off a 33 yard gain down to the Cleveland 9 yard line. On third and goal, Andy Dalton scrambled and was stopped just inches shy of the goal line. Marvin Lewis didn't hesitate to leave his offense out there, but Benson was stopped on fourth down, giving Cleveland the ball back.
The Bengals defense held them to a three and out, thanks to a successful instant replay challenge by Marvin Lewis. Brad Maynard's punt went out at the Cleveland 47, allowing the Bengals to start their second drive in positive field position.
After Cedric Benson rushed for seven yards, Dalton found AJ Green for 22 yards and Cincinnati was back in the red zone. Cedric Benson quickly finished off the drive with a 16 yard touchdown run to even the game at 7-7. In two drives, Benson already had 64 yards on the ground.
Cleveland opened the second quarter by moving into Cincinnati territory exclusively on the ground. Chris Ogbannaya carried the load for the first part of the drive and then Peyton Hillis came in to pick up a tough third and short. Colt McCoy completed his first pass of the drive on a third down when he found Greg Little for 15 yards down to the Bengals 25. Peyton Hillis then broke off a ten yard run down to the Cincinnati 15. On the next play, Robert Geathers recorded the Bengals first sack, putting Cleveland behind the sticks as the rain started to come down harder. McCoy was flushed from the pocket and forced out of bounds short of the first down to stop the drive. Phil Dawson hooked in a 32 yard attempt to put Cleveland back on top 10-7.
Cleveland brought pressure on the Bengals next drive, forcing a three and out. Kevin Huber boomed a punt getting the ball out of Bengals territory and the coverage team did a nice job penning in the explosive Joshua Cribbs, giving Cleveland the ball back on their own 36. The Bengals defense reciprocated, forcing a Browns punt that pushed the Bengals back to their own 14.
Cedric Benson got the ball out to the 27 on a run and a screen, but went out with an ankle injury. He returned a play later, but another Bengal drive stalled, forcing a Kevin Huber punt. Cleveland receivers couldn't hold on to the ball though, and the Browns had to punt three plays later.
The Bengals took over at their 10 and rather than run out the clock, tried to move the ball. It looked like disaster when Cleveland intercepted a Dalton pass and returned it inside the 20. A defensive holding penalty negated the play. Actual disaster struck two plays later however when Dalton fumbled after being sacked, giving Cleveland the ball at the 14 with 33 seconds left. McCoy found Greg Little in the back corner of the end zone with seven seconds left in the half to extend the lead to 17-7.
The Bengals continued their pattern of slow starts on both sides of the ball. While the rushing game was strong, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, Dalton was unable to get anything going in the passing game. After converting their first two third downs, the Bengals were stopped on their next three.
The defense allowed Cleveland to control the ball on the ground as the Browns had 89 yards at the break. The secondary held a usually efficient Colt McCoy to under 50 per cent passing, but broke down in the red zone twice, yielding the two Browns touchdowns. A Cleveland offense which had only topped 17 points once this season, but had that much on the board at half time. Cincinnati would need another sterling second half performance to avoid a critical loss.
The Bengals opened the second half with promise as Andy Dalton connected with Jermaine Gresham twice to quickly put the ball at midfield. Jerome Simpson caught a key third down pass, but injured his knee in the process. Cedric Benson then took a toss sweep to the 27 followed by a 17 yard play action gain from Dalton to Andre Caldwell. The Browns held inside the 10 though and forced a Mike Nugent field goal attempt. Nugent connected from 23 yards out and the Bengals were back within a touchdown at 17-10. That scoring drive went 70 yards in 12 plays and consumed 6:40 off the clock.
The Bengals looked to have the Browns stopped on their next drive, but Colt McCoy scrambled for 20 yards on a third and 18. That got the ball back into Cincinnati territory. Phil Dawson connected from 54 yards out and the Browns were back up by two scores.
The Bengals were quickly back threatening on their next possession. Andy Dalton found AJ Green for 36 yards down to the Cleveland 22. On the ensuing play, Dalton hit Jermaine Gresham from 22 yards out and the Bengals were within three at 20-17. So after a pounding 12 play drive, the Bengals struck quickly, traveling 75 yards in just five plays.
The fourth quarter opened with the Bengals evening the turnover battle as Reggie Nelson intercepted Colt McCoy at midfield. Andy Dalton and Jermaine Gresham kept the drive alive by hooking up on a third and eight down to the Cleveland 28. The drive stalled though when Dalton overshot Andrew Hawkins in the end zone. Mike Nugent connected from 40 yards out to tie the game at 20-20 with 10:57 left.
The teams traded punts until the Browns took over with just over four minutes left to play. They converted a big third down at midfield with Greg Little taking the ball down inside the Bengals 40. Feeling they were in Phil Dawson's field goal range, Cleveland turned to Peyton Hillis. Cincinnati burned one of their three time outs before the clock stopped for the two minute warning, leaving Cleveland with a third down and ten on the Bengals 37. Nate Clements broke up the third down pass to Greg Little forcing a 55 yarder by Dawson, this time into the wind. Dawson missed short and left, giving Cincinnati the ball at their own 45 with 1:51 left and two time outs.
That's when the Andy Dalton to AJ Green legend added another chapter. Under a heavy rush, Andy Dalton threw one deep over the middle. Green snatched it high in the air at the 35 and streaked down to the two yard line before being pushed out of bounds after a 51 yard gain. A penalty and three Cedric Benson rushes pushed the ball back to the 10, but forced the Browns to use all of their time outs. Mike Nugent put it through from 26 yards out with 38 seconds left to give Cincinnati their first lead of the day at 23-20.
The Bengals special teams did their job, stopping the dangerous Joshua Cribbs at the 27. When Kelly Jennings broke up a fourth down pass intended for Josh Cribbs, the game was over.
Cincinnati once again came up with a shutdown performance on defense in the second half. The Browns had under 100 yards of total offense in the second half. Peyton Hillis was kept in check, especially late in the fourth quarter with the Browns trying to bleed the clock and get closer for Phil Dawson. Colt McCoy was under duress the entire half. He finished just 16 of 34 for 151 yards. He had 102 and both of his touchdowns in the first half. Cleveland's only second half score came on a 54 yard Phil Dawson boot. They never sniffed the red zone.
The Bengals offense cashed in with both long drives and big plays. Andy Dalton stayed cool under pressure and finished 21 of 31 for 270 yards and a touchdown, 190 of those yards coming in the second half. AJ Green continued to make big plays. Joe Haden did another great job on Green, allowing him only three catches. Those three went for 110 yards, however, allowing Green to tie the Bengals rookie record for most 100 yard games. For Dalton, his 16th TD toss of the season eclipsed Greg Cook's rookie record. Jermaine Gresham also turned in a clutch performance, catching five balls for 68 yards and a score.
Cedric Benson topped 100 yards once again against the Browns and found the end zone once. His big first down runs were a key in keeping the Bengals' play book wide open.
Cincinnati won't have much time to celebrate. They have to travel to Pittsburgh next week for a rematch with the Steelers. With the win today, next week's game gives the Bengals the opportunity to regain a shot at the division title.
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