In addition to defeating the Cincinnati Bengals in a defensive battle, the Cleveland Browns have placed themselves in the playoff conservation and perhaps finally found a quality starting quarterback in the process.
Brian Hoyer led the Browns (2-2) to their second straight win, 17-6, looking rather comfortable leading the attack against a talented Cincinnati defense in only the quarterback’s third career start. He completed over 65 percent of his passes for 269 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. While many expected a disappointment in his second game, he actually improved upon his energetic performance from the previous week in a win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Meanwhile, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, a third-year starter, looked to be the inexperienced signal caller on the field. Dalton made inaccurate throws and that led to him committing both Cincinnati turnovers. While Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden was expected to keep Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green relatively quiet, Dalton failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities to make big plays, overthrowing open receivers and throwing into the dirt on others. Additionally, the coaching staff was to blame for poor play calling. On fourth and one at Cleveland’s 7-yard line and trailing 7-3, instead of kicking a field goal the Bengals decided to hand off to running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The slow, plodding Green-Ellis was predictably stuffed for a loss of two yards.
On defense, Cincinnati’s secondary, which the week before had defended Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers as well as any team had in the past three seasons, failed to make any big plays against Hoyer. The defensive line played admirably, recording three sacks and limiting the Browns to only 89 yards rushing on 30 carries. But, as usual, for the Bengals to win, they needed their defense to play extraordinarily and help the offense score points. But with no turnovers on the day, the defense did not carry the team against Cleveland.
Though it is still early in the season, the Bengals’ loss jeopardizes their chances of making the playoffs, while giving the underdog Browns a big boost. Though the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4) are essentially out of the picture for now, the remaining three AFC North teams seem to be closer in terms of talent than many might have imagined. The Bengals, Browns and Baltimore Ravens are all tied at 2-2 and, for now, no team seems to be ready to run away with the division title.