Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Browns unloaded a gigantic gorilla with Sunday afternoon’s 34-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The victory was just the 5th Pat Shurmur in 22 games as head coach and may have relieved the pressure that had been building up as the losses mounted to start the season.
“I think the joy of winning relieves whatever,” Shurmur said. “All along I’ve talked about how I’ve seen this team improve and we all know this is a winning business so now we can quantify how this improvement points to winning. So now once you’ve done something once then it’s important that you repeat it.”
The weight of a potential 12th straight loss was lifted when the clock struck zero and the 11-game losing streak came to an end.
“A big weight was lifted off our shoulders,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “It felt like we won the Super Bowl. We just didn’t give up.”
Haden, who intercepted a pass by Dalton in the 3rd quarter to set up a field goal, helped spark the defense with 7 tackles (6 solo) and 3 passes defended to go with the pick. His energy was clearly infectious despite Bengals receiver A.J. Green finishing with 135 yards and 2 TDs.
“It’s a big relief,” running back Trent Richardson said. “Words cannot even explain right now how I feel. We know that we’ve been in every game and we should have been finishing strong like this.”
9 of the first 13 plays of the day went to Richardson, who was limited to just 37 yards on 14 carries due to a flank injury but he promises to be back against the Colts.
The victory also ended a 12 game AFC North losing streak as well.
“We’ve been so close so many times and to actually get over the hump and close a game out, it feels good. If feels really good,” quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “It’s a lot more fun coming out of that locker room with everybody excited. Going to work tomorrow is going to be a lot more fun than it has been in the last five weeks and that’s why we play the game. We want to have fun, win games and we finally got that notch on our belt.”
TD Machine: Browns rookie receiver Josh Gordon is starting to show why the Browns took a chance and grabbed him in the supplemental draft.
Gordon has become Weeden’s go-to for touchdowns through the air the last 2 weeks. His 71 yard 1-handed touchdown catch in the second quarter was his 3rd consecutive reception for a score.
“It’s really just scheming,” Gordon said. “We scheme in practice we work on it. If we see a mismatch we try and take advantage of it. In that case it was definitely happening and we took advantage of it.”
Gordon had TD receptions of 20 and 62 yards last week at New York and over the last 2 games, he has totaled 5 catches for 181 yards and 3 touchdowns.
“It’s all him,” Weeden said. “He’s able to get on top of the secondary so fast because he’s deceptively fast. He can fly and he’s such a long strider, but that’s all him. He’s the one running wide open. I’m doing the easy past, I’m just throwing and he’s running underneath and making a great play.
“You can start to tell he’s getting more comfortable, he’s getting more in tune with what we do and thank God because he’s a heck of a football player.”
He finished with 3 receptions for 99 yards and the TD in Sunday’s win.
Turning The Tide: Even though it only resulted in a 41-yard field goal, Josh Cribbs’ 60 yard punt return in the 3rd quarter changed the game for the Browns.
“That play that Cribbs made was the biggest play of the game,” Weeden said. “It got us momentum one, but it also flipped the field and so that’s the way this league is. That’s a very, very good defense we just faced and we knew they were going to be a challenge for us, but our guys stepped up and made plays late in the game when we needed to.”
The return helped the Browns climb to within 14-10 and also set in motion a string of 4 straight offensive scoring possessions after 5 straight 3 and out punts.
“His returns are a huge spark,” Shurmur said. “God knows what’s going to happen when Cribbs has the ball in his hand, especially on punt returns. We talk about whether he plays offense or not, but when he’s out there and the field is wide and there’s bodies all over the place he just has a unique ability to make plays. He did the same thing in coverage.
“His presence on the field on special teams is not undervalued in my mind and his punt returns, of course, his kick returns did give us a jump.”
Cribbs finished with 131 all purpose yards that also included a 44 yard kickoff return.
Stepping Up: The Browns’ defense deserves as much credit for Sunday’s win as anyone. Down 14-7 in the second quarter, the defense kept the Bengals at bay despite the offense sputtering through 7 straight possessions of 3 and out.
The Browns scored 6 points on the final 2 possessions of the slump only because of outstanding field position created by a pair of returns – Cribbs’ punt return and Haden’s interception return.
Rookies Billy Winn and John Hughes were strong up front in the absence of Ahtyba Rubin.
“We knew we were a little short on defense, but it comes down to carrying that flag,” Winn said. “A guy goes down, it’s a part of football, you just have to finish, you have to pick it up and get going.”
Winn found himself in the Bengals backfield often – including the 4th quarter that saw him scoop up a fumble and run 35 yards the other way to help thwart a threat from Cincinnati with 2:27 left in the game.
After giving up 243 yards rushing last week to the NY Giants, the Browns held the Bengals to 76 yards on 20 carries.
The defense also forced 4 turnovers – 3 of them interceptions, 1 returned 19 yards for a touchdown by Sheldon Brown to blow the game open at 34-17.
“We feel like we have playmakers,” Haden said. “You know what I’m saying, that everybody just feels like they have to step up and keep doing their job; keep getting ‘three and outs’. And even if, like coach always says, stop the bleeding. They’re going to make a play that’s going to be big for their team. So, once they make that play, we just have to make sure the next one is ours, and I feel like that’s what we did.”