July 28, 2014

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Browns: Early win over Bengals changed season for the better

 BEREA — Romeo Crennel always says that a season must be finished for its turning point to be revealed. With no disrespect to the coach — and two games left on the schedule — the season changed in Week 2.
The Browns wouldn’t be 9-5 and a win in Cincinnati on Sunday from clinching a playoff berth without their 51-45 win over the Bengals on Sept. 16.
“We kind of catapulted them into the season they’ve had and since that game we haven’t really got back on track,” Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer said Wednesday on a conference call. “Too bad it was Game 2 because it’s been a long season for us. It kind of set the tone for both teams, the winner and loser.”
The Browns franchise appeared to be in turmoil leading up to the game. The 34-7 home loss to the Steelers in the opener had crushed the hopes of many fans, and general manager Phil Savage made the unprecedented move of trading opening-day starting quarterback Charlie Frye two days later. Derek Anderson, who played horribly in the preseason, was named the replacement amid cries for rookie Brady Quinn.
“You never know what’s going to happen on Sunday,” Crennel said. “You just go in and hope and feel like your guys are going to play the best they can.”
They did, in the first sign of a resilience that’s resurfaced throughout the year.
“It was a must win,” center Hank Fraley said. “We were already written off. We knew how important it was to come out and play well.
“It gave us that confidence, ‘Hey, we can play with anybody.’ That kinda sparked our whole season. We came together as a team.”
Besides the win, the most important thing to come out of Week 2 was Anderson’s legitimacy as a starter. He was 20-for-33 for 328 yards, five touchdowns, an interception and a 121.0 rating to earn his first win as a starter.
The touchdown passes tied a franchise record, the 554 yards of offense were third in franchise history and the points tied for fourth most. The performance was strong enough to quiet questions about Quinn that have yet to be asked again.
“I’m sure it silenced a lot of critics,” Fraley said. “That game was just a game to him. The way he’s playing now is just great.”
Anderson, who was voted as first alternate to the Pro Bowl, didn’t seem overwhelmed leading up to the Week 2 start, and he was just as nonchalant Wednesday. Instead of focusing on himself, he shifted the attention to the team.
“It was a huge win,” he said. “We knew what we could do. We went out there and were successful on offense. We kind of got guys’ confidence in things we had been doing and got us rolling a little bit.
“We’re in a good position to finish the season strong. We’ve grown a lot.”
The Bengals (5-9) have regressed.
Considered a playoff contender at the start of the season, Cincinnati is battling the Ravens (4-10) for the AFC North basement. The Bengals are guaranteed their first losing season since 2002, the year before coach Marvin Lewis was hired.
“We’re disappointed,” he said in a conference call. “We haven’t had the season that we would have liked.”
The Bengals opened the year with what seemed like an important 27-20 win over the Ravens on Monday night.
“We had a good season going, went into the second game and it’s been all downhill since then,” Palmer said. “I guess you could say it’s a little bit of a revenge factor.
“We’re going to come out firing on all cylinders and really play like we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Cleveland is in a spot where they really have everything to lose and they have to win this game. We just need to come out swinging all over the place and try to knock these guys off the pedestal they are on right now.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.