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On Brandon Weeden's 29th birthday, he got the best present he could have asked for: his first win as a starting quarterback in the NFL. On a day that saw some of the hottest temperatures in weeks, the Cleveland Browns emerged victorious by a final score of 34-24 over the Cincinnati Bengals. There was a bit of an uneasy feeling to start the game, but Cleveland had a 14-point spurt mid-way through the final quarter of play to seal the deal.
With CB Joe Haden making his return from a four-game suspension, Cleveland's defense forced an immediate three-and-out. The Browns' offense began driving down the field, including a connection between Weeden and WR Josh Cooper. Then, on a first-down play in field goal range, a Bengals defender tipped Weeden's pass at the line of scrimmage. The deflection bounced up into the air and was intercepted by defensive end Michael Johnson.
Three plays later, facing a 3rd-and-2, Andy Dalton dropped back and hit tight end Jermaine Gresham on a quick slant. Thanks to a missed tackle by LB Craig Robertson and a horrible play by S Usama Young, Gresham was able to rumble 55 yards for a touchdown, giving the Bengals a 7-0 lead.
Things got better for the Browns at the start of the second quarter. Facing a 3rd-and-8, Weeden got very good protection from his offensive line. For the second time in two weeks, Weeden found WR Josh Gordon for a long touchdown. Gordon's one-hand stab and ensuing run went for 71 yards, tying the game at 7-7.
After each team traded a couple of punts with each other, the Bengals struck again. A Reggie Hodges punt was returned 32 yards by WR Brandon Tate, setting the Bengals up in Browns territory. On the next play, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis rumbled ahead for 20 yards and a first down. Two plays later, Dalton found WR A.J. Green open in the left corner of the end zone after S Usama Young had lost him. That made it a 14-7 game heading into the half.
Cleveland got the ball to start the second half, but went three-and-out. A couple of series later, WR Joshua Cribbs fielded a punt and did a great job dodging tacklers. He didn't get a touchdown, but the 60-yard return, his second awesome return in as many weeks, put Cleveland in field goal range. Phil Dawson was marched in to kick a 41-yard field goal, making it a 14-10 Bengals lead.
On the next series, Cleveland's defense came up huge on third down. Facing pressure at the snap, Dalton rolled to his right and tried to hit WR Andrew Hawkins. The pass was deflected and landed right into the arms of CB Joe Haden.
The Browns' offense couldn't capitalize again, instead settling for three points again to make it a 14-13 lead. On the Browns' next series, Browns fans definitely noticed the fact that RB Trent Richardson was on the sideline and backup Montario Hardesty was starting to get the bulk of the work. Richardson had a side injury, but Hardesty delivered in his first serious action of the season. A solid drive was capped off by a one-yard spiraling leap into the end zone for Hardesty on the first play of the fourth quarter.
It was the first career touchdown for Hardesty, and it gave the Browns their first lead of the game at 20-14. Now, it was time for the Bengals to try to rally. They marched down the field, but had to settle for a 44-yard field goal to make it a 20-17 game.
Cribbs sparked the Browns again with a 44-yard kick return. After Weeden made a big third-down throw to TE Jordan Cameron to put the ball three yards away from the end zone, the rookie quarterback ran a playaction fake and found TE Benjamin Watson wide open in the left corner of the end zone, giving the Browns a 27-17 advantage.
If that wasn't enough to convince Browns fans that they were going to come away with a win, then this was:
On the Bengals' first play after Watson's touchdown reception, CB Sheldon Brown jumped a pass by Dalton and took it 19 yards for a pick six. The Browns had a decisive 34-17 lead with just under eight minutes to play in the game.
Since this is Cleveland, Browns fans still sweated out the rest of the game a bit. With over five minutes to go in the game, Dalton heaved a pass down the left sideline for Green. Green had a few steps on Haden and scored a 57-yard touchdown, making it a 34-24 game.
After the Browns went three-and-out, the Bengals got the ball back and began marching down the field again. Dalton led the Bengals all the way down to the nine yard line with over two minutes to play. Thankfully, DE Emmanuel Stephens forced a fumble on Dalton, and DT Billy Winn came up with the recovery. Winn rumbled 35 yards down the field before being brought down.
The Browns punted again, but by that time, the Bengals were down two possessions and had no timeouts with barely any time remaining in the game. Dalton's final attempt at the end zone was intercepted by Young for a touchback. After a kneel down by Weeden and the clock read 0:00, it was official: the Browns had their first win of the season, and head coach Pat Shurmur won an AFC North game for the first time in his two seasons with the Browns.
Green's final stat line might have been impressive, and he did beat Haden once the Browns were up by three possessions. He had a major impact on the game, though, and I believe his presence rubbed off on guys like CB Sheldon Brown and CB Buster Skrine.
The Browns are 1-5, and ended their 11-game losing streak dating back to last season. Winning feels good. Can we have a happy post-game thread for once?
Except for Marecic. Complain all you want about him.