For five straight weeks prior to this game the Browns have failed to finish. Whether it was the inability to move the ball on offense or complete breakdowns on defense, this team was unable to finish football games with a win. That trend came to a screeching halt in Cleveland this Sunday against the Bengals. The Browns were able to keep the game close throughout the first three quarters, thanks in part to the ever-dependable leg of Phil Dawson. Then with the first play in the fourth quarter Montario Hardesty capped off a 10-play 66-yard drive on a 1-yard touchdown run, giving them their first lead of the game. Cleveland never looked back. After scoring on their next drive, Sheldon Brown made the proverbial dagger play, intercepting Andy Dalton on the first play of the following drive and taking it back for six.
The Browns' passing game continues to improve each week. This largely revolves around rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who turned 29 on the same day as the game. Since the abysmal Week 1 performance and the stark turnaround in Week 2, Weeden has been fairly steady. He's had an issue with interceptions, which he was tied for first in the league coming into this week. Weeden attributed the problem to an "ego thing." Today he has the No. 1 spot outright with 10 picks on the season. Despite that, his one and only interception this week came on a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. He was able to recover from that and continue to play safe with the football, outside of a few more passes batted down at the line. Weeden isn't letting adversity affect his confidence. He's also continuing to throw the ball accurately down field, completing three passes over 20 yards, including a perfect 71-yard bomb to rookie WR Josh Gordon for the Browns' first touchdown of the day.
Speaking of Gordon, this second-round supplemental draft pick is emerging as a big play wide receiver. The way he's been playing over the last two weeks is just the sort of threat that the Browns' receiving corps has needed for several years. The question now is whether or not he can be consistent, but the potential is definitely there.
Josh Cooper, another rookie WR, made his first appearance after coming up from the Browns' practice squad, getting playing time in the absence of Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin. Cooper had a solid impact on the game, finishing second in receiving for the Browns with 39 yards on just two catches. A similar performance came from TE Jordan Cameron, who caught two passes for 38 yards.
The Browns' running game was a pleasant surprise even after Trent Richardson had to leave the game with a flank injury. Montario Hardesty got his first carries of the season replacing Richardson, and he made the most of them. Hardesty rushed for 56 yards on 15 carries, averaging 3.7, his highest since as far back as Week 3 of 2011. He also punched in the go-ahead touchdown from a yard out.
The offense didn't go the entire game without trouble, however. They had nine three-and-outs and as many as seven of them came consecutively, the final two of which finished in field goals thanks to plays made on defense and special teams.
The special teams is worth expanding on this week, especially considering how much the field position contributed to the offense. Josh Cribbs has been on fire returning the ball so far this season, despite not yet making it into the end zone. He's now averaging career highs returning both kicks and punts. The Browns are also second in the league in both categories. If Cribbs continues this pace, It's only a matter of time before he breaks the big one. Phil Dawson continued his spectacular kicking campaign and remains perfect with 12 for 12 on the season. The Browns' punting is where the special teams has struggled. Reggie Hodges hasn't been great but the coverage has been even worse. The team is second-to-last in average return yards allowed.
The Browns' offensive line was formidable against a Bengals' defensive line that is second in the league in sacks. The Browns only gave up two sacks in the game, along with those tipped passes, even with John Greco seeing his first significant action of the season after Jason Pinkston had to leave the game due to an illness.