It took all 31 days in the month of October, but the Cleveland Browns managed to salvage the month and keep the slim hopes of post-season football alive with a victory on Halloween night. The Browns defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 32-13 on Monday Night Football in front of a national audience. With the win, Head Coach Kevin Stefanski is now 5-0 against the Browns’ in-state rivals, and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is 0-4 against the Browns in his brief career.
This win was exactly what the doctor ordered for a team on life support following four consecutive losses. The formula for success took just the right mix of rushing opportunities for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, timely completions by quarterback Jacoby Brissett, a strong pass rush led by Myles Garrett, and a staunch running defense. If you sprinkle in some forced turnovers and special teams miscues by the Bengals with Evan McPherson missing a first-half field goal and an extra point in the second half, it all turned into a victory for the Browns in a must-win situation.
Obviously, the victory is the most important thing to come away with from the game, but of course there were portions of the game and players that were good, bad, and sickening.
The Browns came out with a purpose and put together a team effort that resulted in a victory over the Bengals. With that, let’s get to some of what I would categorize as “The Good”:
First, on the opening possession of the game, the Browns’ defense forced a turnover off of a pass tipped by Garrett that ended up in the hands of A.J. Green for an interception.
Second, Brissett was 17-22 passing for 278 yards. He had one passing touching and one rushing touchdown. His passer rating was 133.7. Brissett did exactly what the Browns needed him to do. He played a pretty clean football game and made some nice throws to complement the rushing attack.
Third, the rushing attack of Chubb and Hunt put the Bengals on their heels and set up the play-action passing game. Chubb carried the ball 23 times for 101 yards, two touchdowns, and a two-point conversion. Hunt came into the game and chipped in 42 yards on 11 carries. His ability to come in and keep up the momentum with his violent running attack was just what the Browns needed from him.
Fourth, Amari Cooper is proving to be one of the biggest steals of the NFL offseason as he was acquired from the Dallas Cowboys for a 5th-round draft pick. He caught five passes for 131 yards with a touchdown. His route running was tremendous and his ability to reel in passes continues to impress. Notwithstanding the interception he threw on the gadget play in the first quarter, he had a magnificent game.
Finally, and most importantly, the team came together as a whole and put together its best performance of the season.
The gadget play call by Kevin Stefanski that resulted in an interception by Cooper was another head-scratcher in a season full of cringe-worthy plays called by Stefanski. If the play works, that’s a bonus, but at that point in the game, the Browns and Bengals were still scoreless in the first quarter. Stefanski, in my humble opinion, should stick to the bread and butter for this team which should be run-first. He shouldn’t try to overthink the obvious strength of this team and the ability to take advantage of the great offensive line and running backs.
There were three specific plays in the game that I would categorize as “Sickening”.
First, on the very first offensive snap of the game for the Bengals, the Browns had 12 men on the field. This is the kind of blunder that has haunted the Browns all season.
Second, the blocked 53-yard field goal attempt of Cade York, the second blocked kick allowed in two weeks.
Third, and this was egregious to me, was the gadget play in the first quarter resulting in wide receiver Amari Cooper throwing an interception.
The first and second moments that I deemed sickening are indicative of the type of things that bad teams do. They commit bad penalties and can’t do the simple things right.
The Browns go into the bye week at 3-5 and in third place in the AFC North. There is a lot of football to be played, but hopefully the victory over the Bengals is a catalyst for more wins and continued consistency in all phases of the game.