CINCINNATI – On a cold and windy night, the Cleveland Browns sent a loud and clear message to the NFL that they are for real in dominating the Cincinnati Bengals, 24-3.
Coming into their tilt vs. the defending AFC North champion Bengals, former Browns second-round pick Greg Little vowed to make Cleveland pay for cutting him in the off-season and every NFL Network analyst picked the home favorite Bengals to beat the upstart, intransigent Browns by double-digits.
Too bad the Browns never got an invoice from Little and the “experts” living up to their title.
This writer isn’t sure what kind of Jedi mind trick that rookie head coach Mike Pettine used on the Browns, but if Thursday night’s 21-point demolition of the paper tiger Bengals was any indication, the mojo is working.
Going into the game, all everyone seemed to talk about was Cleveland’s 17-game road losing streak in the AFC North, Johnny Manziel eventually unseating Brian Hoyer and the prospect of the Browns being “competitive” in a likely blowout loss with perennial Browns-killer A.J. Green returning from injury.
What transpired last night didn’t quite go exactly the way that the proverbial Illuminati football gods commanded, as the Browns would spite the devilish Bengals in all three phases of the game on offense in effectively running the ball to the tune of three rushing touchdowns from Ben Tate, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, the defense forcing four turnovers, including picking off Cincinnati’s $96 million dollar man in quarterback Andy Dalton three times.
For the game, Dalton lived up to his hefty six-year big contract extension in going 10-of-33 for 86 yards and finishing the game with a Hall-of-Fame worthy QB rating of 2.0
You would never guess that Cleveland utterly dominated the Bengals, the way the national media loves to slight and overlook the Browns. If you actually watched the game, one would be stunned to see Cleveland hold the high-powered Cincinnati offense to three points, 165 yards and 17 first downs.
The normal Bengal apologists will say that it was a short week and that they were with Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burflct, Leon Hall, and a less-than-100 percent Geno Atkins, but what makes Cleveland’s win even more impressive is that they won on the road with their Pro Bowl center in Alex Mack and minus two Pro Bowlers in tight end Jordan Cameron and wideout Josh Gordon.
Injuries are part of life in the NFL, so why is it for so long that they have been used as an excuse to never give Cleveland it’s due? That time ended last night.
What also needs to end is all the talk of Manziel starting over Hoyer, while once again putting up less than Madden-like numbers in another win, Hoyer improved to 9-3 as starting quarterback, outdueled a QB who makes ten times his salary—while improving to 2-0 vs. Dalton—another little secret that that so-called experts conveniently gloss over is the fact that the Browns are 5-1 in their last six games and have beaten three .500 teams in Pittsburgh, New Orleans and now Cincinnati.
For now, Cleveland can rejoice in having it’s best record in nine games since 1994, a quarterback that doesn’t turn the ball over in Hoyer, a defense beginning to play up to it’s potential and tough-minded no-nonsense coach in Pettine who get’s it.
While the Browns are in a virtual first-place tie with the arch-rival Steelers in the AFC North—with Pittsburgh owning the tie-breaker due to better record vs. common opponents and better conference record—The Browns sit in the middle of playoff contention for the first time in 20 years, have the look of a team that is beginning to realize it’s potential and could be one to watch.
Just don’t tell the so-called experts that.
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