A couple of months ago, training camp had finished for the Cleveland Browns and I was all set to attend my first home opener. The Cincinnati Bengals were in town for an early "Battle of Ohio," and it would also be an early opportunity for the Browns to make a splash in the AFC North; after all, they wouldn't be facing a division opponent again until Week 12.
We saw some frustration in that game offensively, but it wasn't as bad as what we've seen against teams like the Seahawks and the 49ers. The defense looked as if they came to play, and expectations weren't high for the Bengals' offense. They were relying on rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, a guy who I thought had a terrible preseason and would be full of mistakes. He managed to put together a decent first half, but then had to leave after sustaining an injury after a hit from one of our lineman. In came backup Bruce Gradkowski, and it seemed like the Browns had the game in the bag.
Cleveland's offense continued to have some good drives in the second half, but it did not translate to the scoreboard. With about five minutes left in regulation, the game was in the hands of the defense. The Bengals' offense, simply put, looked like crap against our defense the entire second half. There was no doubt in my mind that they couldn't move the chains. And then...the horror happened. As the Browns were huddled still, the Bengals ran the infamous quick snap that led to the go-ahead A.J. Green touchdown. The Bengals shortly after added a long Cedric Benson touchdown run. It went from being our game in the bag to a Bengals victory.
That game is the difference in the standings right now. If it had gone the other way, both teams would be at 5-5 right now. In a way, though, the way the Bengals won the game is what they've been doing all season. They have fallen behind badly to quite a few teams, only to come back with some magic from Dalton and the defense. They almost did it to Pittsburgh and Baltimore over the past two weeks, but their efforts fell short.
Meanwhile, after that first game, Cleveland went on to really struggle offensively without running back Peyton Hillis, who was mostly out with a hamstring injury. Over the past two weeks, we've seen a lot more positives on the offensive side of the ball, and the defense continues to limit the amount of points the opposition throws up on the board. Hillis might be returning this week for the first time since October. Don't count the Browns out yet, at least when it comes to making some noise against their division rivals. Those Browns defenders can't have a good taste in their mouth after the Week 1 collapse, and the offense could be amped up if Hillis is back. We'll see what that combination leads to by the end of the fourth quarter on Sunday.