On a rainy afternoon in downtown Cincinnati, the Browns’ playoff hopes were submerged in the Ohio River.
Cleveland’s offense was overmatched and its special teams were anything but, allowing the Bengals to come from behind for a 41-20 rout Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
The loss essentially eliminated the Browns from the AFC North Division race, but apparently did nothing to erase their confidence.
“A few plays here and there, and it could have been a different game,” Cleveland defensive end Desmond Bryant said. “I think we were ready to compete, but it just wasn’t our day. That’s the nature of the game.
“It’s a matter of who makes the plays when it counts. We’ve got to give credit to the Bengals. They got going and made plays on offense, defense, and special teams.”
Did they ever.
Cincinnati rung up a franchise-record 31 points in the second quarter — scoring touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams — and only needed three first downs and 14:51 to do it.
Spencer Lanning had a punt blocked for one score, Chris Ogbonnaya fumbled to give the Bengals another and Jason Campbell set up a third with an interception.
The Browns did make the game memorable — not in a good way, but memorable nonetheless — by playing one of the worst periods in NFL history. They ended the first with a 13-0 lead, but headed into halftime down 31-13.
“I felt like we were doing a good job, but all of a sudden they had 31 points,” Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden said. “Momentum was good, everything was good, everybody was clapping hands on the sidelines. Then it just flopped.”
No one flopped bigger than quarterback Campbell, who looked like a skittish rookie going against an injury-plagued Cincinnati defense.
The ninth-year pro fired balls high and low in failing to capitalize on terrific field position presented to him by Cleveland’s defenders. Campbell’s misfires were the sole reason why the Browns had to kick field goals after driving to the 1- and 10-yard lines in the opening quarter.
“You know, 21-0 instead of 13-0 is a huge difference,” Campbell said. “I thought us settling for those field goals let Cincinnati think they were still in it. When you have a chance to put a team down in this league, you’ve got to get them down while you can.”
Playoff-tested teams, though, tend to avoid the knockout blow.
They also rely on savvy veterans to lead the way, which former Steelers linebacker James Harrison did by picking off Campbell late in the first quarter. The interception gave the Bengals an immeasurable boost in confidence, which they rode like a wave for the rest of the contest.
“We just kept saying, ‘Somebody has to make a play,’” Cincinnati cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones said. “Didn’t nobody flinch on either the offense or the defense.
“It didn’t start off good, but we finished good. Those are the signs of a good team, working together to be great.”
Unfortunately, Cleveland isn’t a good team yet and is far from great. But the Browns are much better than they were last year — and their goose isn’t cooked yet.
Even after a humiliating loss in the Battle of Ohio, coach Rob Chudzinski’s squad remains just one game out of the final AFC postseason spot. A playoff berth is highly unlikely, but at least it’s a talking point heading into the final six weeks of the season.
“We are all working to get there and we’re going to continue to do so,” Chudzinski said. “Again, this is one game. We have to accept the outcome and get better from it because we have a lot left to play in this season. We will be ready to play next week.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.