CLEVELAND — Reeling from three blowout losses to open the season and desperate for a glimmer of hope, Pro Bowl nose tackle Shaun Rogers said last week he “just wanted to see us compete.”
Rogers got his wish. The Browns battled for 74 minutes and 56 seconds Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
They still don’t have a victory.
Shayne Graham slipped a 31-yard field goal inside the right upright with four seconds left in sudden-death overtime, giving the Bengals a 23-20 victory at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns are 0-4, while the Bengals improved to 3-1 and moved into a first-place tie with the Baltimore Ravens.
Eric Mangini was called the “worst NFL coaching hire in the last 25 years” by SI.com and spent last week defending his abrasive style and demanding approach. He walked off the field alone Sunday, long strides leading him into the locker room and a meeting with his team.
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“I couldn’t be prouder of how they played. They competed through five quarters,” he said. “It’s difficult to lose at any point, but there are a lot of things here to build on.”
For the first time in the Mangini Era, a Browns game felt like a real NFL game. There were big plays, difficult decisions, momentum shifts, crowd participation and even a meaningful offensive touchdown.
In his first start since replacing Brady Quinn, quarterback Derek Anderson threw a 1-yard touchdown to tight end Steve Heiden and ran one in himself from a yard out. They were the first non-garbage time offensive touchdowns since November.
Of course, the losing streak stretches that far and has reached 10 games.
“Nobody’s happy that we lost, nobody’s happy we just went to overtime and played it to the last 10 seconds,” said Anderson, who finished with 269 yards passing, an interception in the end zone and a 68.8 rating. “That’s not what we’re here for.”
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The biggest of the game’s bushel of big plays came at the end. The Bengals faced fourth-and-11 from the Cleveland 41-yard line with 1:04 left in overtime. Coach Marvin Lewis called for a punt — which would’ve all but assured a tie — but quarterback Carson Palmer had a different opinion. After some more thought and discussion, Lewis sent the offense back on the field.
The Browns had the receivers blanketed in man-to-man coverage, but didn’t account for Palmer’s feet. He saw safety Abram Elam follow a receiver toward the right sideline and took off down the right seam, sore ankle and all. He slid 15 yards later for a first down. The winning field goal quickly followed.
“We just had a breakdown on defense,” Elam said. “Our guys were fighting hard, nailing and scratching trying to make plays. This is definitely a heartbreaking loss.”
The Bengals won the coin toss to start overtime, but it wouldn’t be that simple. Each team was stopped three times before the final drive, and the Bengals only won after 20-yard completions to Chris Henry and Laveranues Coles on third-and-10s.
“In this league, the margin for error is so slim, so you just have to be prepared all four quarters,” Elam said.
The Bengals tied the game at 20 with 1:55 left in regulation when Palmer found Chad Ochocinco for his second touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 2. Rogers preserved the tie with a block of Graham’s extra point. Rogers blocked a 23-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter. He declined to talk after the game, but his teammates were impressed.
“He gets so much penetration being so big and he can jump, too,” Anderson said. “He gets up there and gets his hands on the balls.”
The Browns had a chance to win at the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime. With 27 seconds left in regulation from the Cincinnati 40, Anderson’s pass hit tight end Robert Royal in the face mask at about the 25-yard line. At least four passes fell incomplete because the receiver wasn’t ready for the bullet from Anderson.
“Derek gets it out so quickly,” Royal said. “I didn’t see it at all.”
The Browns’ lone good chance in overtime reached the Bengals 47 on their final possession. A screen to Jerome Harrison (a career-high 121 rushing yards) lost 4 yards, and Anderson threw behind an open Mike Furrey (he played receiver and safety) over the middle with pressure in his face.
“I saw him, but next thing you know I was looking at the ceiling,” Anderson said. “It was open, I had a free guy, I knew we had a free guy. I was just trying to buy a little bit of time to let him run his route.”
The Browns hung tough after a brutal start that saw them run four offensive plays in the first quarter. Ochocinco caught a fade for a 7-0 lead and defensive end Robert Geathers returned a Harrison fumble 75 yards to make it 14-0 50 seconds into the second quarter. Harrison was stood up, cornerback Leon Hall ripped the ball loose and it popped right to Geathers.
The Browns owned the next two-plus quarters. The Bengals had nine first downs in the first 15 minutes and none for the next 39 minutes. Palmer snapped the drought with a 16-yard pass to Chris Henry over the middle on third-and-14 with 5:30 left in the fourth quarter.
Bernard Scott ran for 11 and 17 yards and J.P. Foschi caught a 27-yarder to move the ball to the 4 on three straight plays. After two incompletions and a 2-yard shovel pass, the Bengals faced fourth-and-goal from the 2 with the two-minute warning approaching.
The Browns were confused on defense so Mangini used his final timeout with 2:02 left. The Bengals weren’t going to get a play off, and the Browns could’ve used the timeout on their final drive after the Bengals tied it.
“I thought they were going to get the play off before the two-minute warning,” Mangini said. “You never want to waste a timeout. I probably would do it again, just because we weren’t in the right spots. It was too critical a point in the game.”
One with a new plot, but an all-too-familiar ending.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.