What a difference a week makes.
In a game that included a complete reversal of fortunes for the offense and the defense of the Cleveland Browns, the difference in the final outcome of the game ended up being a special teams play, as they lost 34-27 to the Cincinnati Bengals.
After the Browns' first drive ended quickly, Reggie Hodges' punt was returned 81 yards by the Bengals' Adam Jones. Several defenders missed tackles on the play. For all of the Ray Ventrone haters out there, he could have made a world of a difference on a play like this. Ventrone was inactive due to a hand injury.
Cleveland responded on their next drive with a 50-yard field goal by Phil Dawson, making it a 7-3 game in the first quarter. It stayed that way until the beginning of the second quarter, when it looked like Cincinnati was ready to put things out of reach. After soft coverage by Dimitri Patterson, Andy Dalton stepped back and threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver A.J. Green. That's when things started to get fun. On Cleveland's ensuing drive, Trent Richardson took a draw play 35 yards by bouncing to the right edge. He leaped into the end zone for the first touchdown of his NFL career.
That made it a 14-10 Bengals lead in the second quarter. Before the first half ended, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent tacked on a 39-yard field goal to make it 17-10.
Once again, it seemed like Cleveland would be out of it. Not so. Quarterback Brandon Weeden looked calm and collective as the pass protection improved. After the lone turnover forced by Cleveland's defense of the game -- a D'Qwell Jackson interception -- the Browns had good field position. Weeden took advantage, and Richardson went into "beast mode" on a dump off route for a 23 yard touchdown. It was Weeden's first career passing touchdown, and Richardson's first receiving touchdown, making it a 24-17 Bengals lead at the end of the third quarter.
Unfortunately, Cleveland's defense still couldn't hold things together in the fourth quarter. Right after it looked like the defense was gaining momentum, after being pressured in the backfield, Dalton found the waterbug receiver Andrew Hawkins back across the field. Rookie cornerback Trevin Wade lost track of Hawkins, and then the 5'7" receiver we were so worried about made the Browns pay.
That made it a 31-17 game in favor of the Bengals near the beginning of the fourth quarter. Once again, Weeden drove Cleveland down the field though and threw a very impressive 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Greg Little. With a little over seven minutes to go in the first half, the Browns were down 31-24.
The defense needed to hold Cincinnati again, but they couldn't. On a 3rd-and-7 from midfield with over three minutes to play, Dalton threw a pass toward the sideline for tight end Jermaine Gresham. Skrine broke up the pass initially, but Gresham stayed with it and hauled in the pass just before he went out of bounds. That put the Bengals into field goal range, and they were able to tack on a field goal to go up two possessions by 34-24. Weeden marched down the field again and set Cleveland up for a short field goal with 20 seconds to play, making it a 34-27 game. The onside kick attempt was recovered by the Bengals' A.J. Green, ending Cleveland's chances.
Some of the final stats on offense:
QB Brandon Weeden: 26-of-37 (70.3%) for 322 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions. 114.9 QB rating.
RB Trent Richardson: 19 carries, 109 yards (5.7 average), 1 touchdown. 4 catches, 36 yards, 1 touchdown.
WR Mohamed Massaquoi: 5 catches, 90 yards.
WR Greg Little: 5 catches, 57 yards, 1 touchdown.
The secondary was unbearable for Cleveland. I originally thought they would only be without Joe Haden, but it turned out that Sheldon Brown did not play either (if he did, he was very limited). The result was a comfortable day throwing the ball for Andy Dalton filled with missed tackles, soft coverage, and big plays for Cincinnati.
Do things go up or down next week against Buffalo? As long as this team has some offense, I think fans will be a bit more optimistic. And, to make some people feel better, the Browns will still be only one game out of a first-place tie for the division lead heading into Week 3.