Like most Browns losses, the margin of victory was small. It was two points that separated the teams, as the Bengals squeaked past the Browns 19-17.
With all the time Colt McCoy spent watching this one from the sidelines, he probably felt like he was still recovering from his ankle injury that has kept him out of the past three games. This wasn’t the case of course. McCoy actually returned to the Browns starting lineup for the first time since November 28. The rookie looked like he had not missed a beat. He finished the game with 243 yards, a 76% completion rate, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The only problem was, the Cincinnati running game was so effective, that McCoy and the Browns offense hardly saw the field. Cincinnati dominated the time of possession controlling the ball for over 38 minutes of game time.
Much credit is due to the Bengals offensive line. They played hard all game and opened up big holes for their running backs. The duo of Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott totaled 190 yards (150 and 40 respectively) on the ground at a rate of 4.9 yards per carry. Behind a running game like that, all the rest of the team has to do is play solid, which they did. Carson Palmer did not turn the ball over at all, and rookie kicker Clint Stitser was a perfect 4-4 on field goals. Stitser came into the game with only two games played and three field goals on his NFL resume.
Obviously you have to pin the blame on the Browns defense in this one. Giving up that much rushing yardage will almost always spell disaster. They do deserve credit though for limiting the Bengals to field goals time after time. Honestly, the Bengals offensive line just seemed like they were sick and tired of losing. Rather than talking about how bad the Browns defense was, I feel more inclined to give the nod to the professionalism of the veteran leaders on the Bengals who have kept their competitive fire despite a horrific season, and Coach Marvin Lewis who had his team ready to play.
Speaking of being ready to play, Bengals RB Brian Leonard was out to show that Peyton Hillis is not the only player wearing jersey number 40 in the league who can hurdle a defender. After catching a short pass from Palmer in the 3rd quarter, Leonard took flight over Browns Safety T.J. Ward for a 20-yard gain on the play. The Rutgers alum was actually dubbed Leapin’ Leonard for his high flying style during his college career. On a side note, Ward notched ten tackles which brings his total to 91 on the year. He leads both the Browns and all NFL rookies by a wide margin.
With this loss McCoy drops to 2-4 as a starter this year. He will need to win the last two games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh in order to avoid his first ever losing season as a starting quarterback. Good Luck Colt! Regardless of wins and losses, McCoy has played good football this season. If he can finish up strong, he can solidify his spot as the starter going into next season. This will allow the Browns to not have to spend a high draft pick on a quarterback, which will let them upgrade their overall talent level. Offensive play-makers, inside linebackers and defensive linemen will likely be top priority for the Browns this coming off season.
With two tough games to go in what has definitely become a disappointing season after back to back losses to the Bills and Bengals, it would be nice to see the Browns take one of these games. It is more likely they’ll lose both and finish 5-11 which should lead to a good deal of speculation about the job status of Coach Eric Mangini. I think we can all agree that the Browns are heading in the right direction under Mangini, but the question will be: Does Mike Holmgren think that another coach can get the Browns where they want to be faster? Time will tell.
About the Author
Written by Fran Berkman
Francis (Fran) Berkman is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY with a BS in Human Development. He is currently working towards a master's degree in journalism at Hofstra University. He lives in Massapequa, NY.