The Browns had a chance to get back into the playoff race, an opportunity to put the league on notice and put a scare into the rival Bengals, who sit atop the AFC North division. Most importantly, the Browns were giving their fans reason to get legitimately excited. Lost in the chatter was a single important reminder: This was still the Cleveland Browns. Sunday, the Browns that the fans have come to know and love showed up in full force as they were humiliated in Cincinnati to the tune of a 41-20 final score.
Initially, the Browns came out on fire in the first quarter, offering hope that they had turned a new leaf for once. Joe Haden, the team’s best defensive player, intercepted Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton twice, returning the second one into the end zone for a defensive touchdown. In the blink of an eye, the Browns had built up a 13-0 lead and hopes were raised. After all, that is usually the team’s modus operandi: Jump out to a lead in a big game like this to give the fans hope, only to dash that hope later on.
Usually, that hope doesn’t get dashed until some point in the fourth quarter, but on this day the Browns didn’t even wait that long to bring the hopes of their fans down. The second quarter featured one long parade of mistakes and by the time the quarter was over, the Browns had dug themselves an insurmountable hole.
When it came to making mistakes, the Browns left no stone unturned. The offense and special teams committed a grand total of five turnovers, leading to plenty of easy touchdowns for the Bengals. Quarterback Jason Campbell got the party started with an interception, giving the Bengals offense the ball deep in Browns territory.
Two plays later, the Bengals scored a touchdown to get on the board. It turned out to just be the beginning. Mere minutes later, the Browns dug deep into their playbook, so to speak, when a punt attempt got blocked. It was the first time in 20 years that the team had experienced the agony of a blocked punt. Clearly, they must have felt a need to remind the fans of that feeling. Naturally, the blocked punt was returned for another easy score. At that point, the Browns were hanging on by a thread.
It didn’t take long for the Bengals to cut that thread completely. Less than two minutes after the blocked punt, running back Chris Ogbonnaya provided the Browns with a triple whammy: He got tackled in the backfield for a loss of four yards, fumbled the football for a turnover and watched helplessly as the Bengals returned that fumble to the end zone for yet another touchdown.
By that point, the Browns couldn’t leave Cincinnati fast enough. The game was effectively over, and all that was left to be determined were the final statistics. After giving fans the impression that the team might actually be improved in recent weeks, for one day the Browns sent out a harsh reminder of the stigma attached to being, well, the Browns.
Hopefully, the Steelers show them a little more mercy next week.