CLEVELAND — Raise your hand if you saw this coming. Now head to Vegas and bet the ranch.
A week after a humiliating opening loss and five days after Charlie Frye was traded, the Browns shocked Northeast Ohio and the NFL on Sunday with a 51-45 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
“We live close to Cedar Point and it’s been a roller coaster for us,” said general manager Phil Savage, who took heat for the abruptness of the Frye trade. “We won a game nobody expected us to win.”
The Browns have gone seasons (2005, 2000) without scoring as many points in a game as they did in the first half — 27 — and they managed just seven last week vs. the Steelers. But behind an offensive line that was impenetrable, Derek Anderson staked his claim to the quarterback job.
Rookie Brady Quinn spent the afternoon on the sideline and ended the game standing on the bench waving a towel to incite the crowd as Cincinnati tried to score in the final minute. Cornerback Leigh Bodden, who allowed Chad Johnson 11 catches for 209 and two touchdowns, made the game-sealing interception as he dropped in zone coverage and dragged his feet inbounds along the sideline. The play was reviewed, but the interception and victory stood.
“We needed to show the city, fans and media we care about this,” receiver Braylon Edwards said.
Anderson, who improved to 1-3 as a starter, threw five touchdown passes and for 328 yards — both career highs. Edwards had a career-high 146 receiving yards. Kellen Winslow had a career-high 100 receiving yards and did cartwheels after Jamal Lewis’ two long runs. Lewis ran for 216 yards and an 8.0 average. It wasn’t a career high — he had 295 vs. the Browns in 2003 — but it was the most by a Brown since 1963 and included a 66-yard touchdown run on which he wasn’t touched.
It was the first time in Browns history they had a 300-yard passer, two 100-yard receivers and a 200-yard rusher. The 554 yards of offense were the third-highest all time, and the points were the most since returning in 1999 and the sixth-most in team history.
Guard Eric Steinbach, who left the Bengals in the offseason for the Browns and $49.5 million, said there was “no way” he saw 51 points coming.
“In this league, you don’t see those scores,” he said. “But I do know we have the capability to score 50. At halftime we were saying, ‘Man, we might have to score 50 to win this thing.’ And that’s what happened.”
The Browns needed 50 because Carson Palmer was even better than Anderson. He was 33-for-50 for 401 yards, six touchdowns, two interceptions and a 113.4 rating. Johnson’s first score came in the end zone away from the Dawg Pound, so there was no grand celebration. He followed the second TD with a leap into the crowd near John “Big Dawg” Thompson.
Johnson was greeted with a round of beer — dumped on him.
“That was cool,” he said. “(The beer) was cold. I gave the fans their money’s worth.”
The same can be said for the whole game.
The Bengals scored on the opening drive for a 7-0 lead, and that set the tone. The Browns led 27-21 at halftime and 41-38 after three quarters. The lead grew to 48-38 after a wide-open Edwards made a diving catch and rolled into the end zone. His pep talk to Anderson during the week paid huge dividends.
“We talked to him as receivers,” Edwards said. “We told him, ‘You didn’t get this job by default. You didn’t get this job because they wanted to make another move. You got this job because you can play. Be comfortable, know that we’re here for you and let the bullets fly.’
“He relaxed, he was fun in the huddle and he was commanding at the same time.”
Anderson entered the game in the huge shadow cast by Quinn. He started the game 0-for-5, but never got rattled. With the Bengals forced to pay attention to Lewis, Anderson sat in the pocket and found the team’s stars running open against single coverage.
Winslow had a 25-yard touchdown, Edwards 34- and 37-yarders and Joe Jurevicius 17- and 9-yarders.
“It was one of the funnest games I’ve ever played in,” said Anderson, who was 20-for-33 for 328 yards, an interception and a 121.0 rating.
“Everybody was shocked by last week’s loss,” Jurevicius said. “We regrouped as a team and an organization. I think it speaks volumes about the type of attitude and what we want to accomplish as a football team.”
The team held a players-only meeting Monday to address the plethora of problems in the loss to the Steelers.
“Everybody had a chance to say something,” said Joshua Cribbs, who set up a touchdown with an 85-yard kickoff return. “We looked each other in the eyes and said, ‘If you didn’t feel sick (after the loss), something was wrong.’”
The players quickly moved on, and Steinbach said they had the best week of practice since minicamp in the spring.
“This is what we can be about,” Edwards said. “This is the team we want to show the league. This is us.”
The win snapped a five-game losing streak in the Battle of Ohio and improved coach Romeo Crennel’s record in the AFC North to 2-12.
“A division win, how about that?” Crennel joked as he entered the interview room. “We’re going to try to play that kind of football the rest of the way, with some improvements.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.