A thorough knockout
Ugly doesn’t even begin to describe what happened to the Browns Sunday afternoon in the home finale of the 2014 season.
In fact, there probably is no word in the English language that adequately and properly describes what took place between the hours of 1 o’clock and 4 o’clock.
To say the Cincinnati Bengals dominated the Browns in the second meeting of the Battle of Ohio this season would be a huge understatement. So would manhandled.
The Bengals, embarrassed at home by the Browns on a Thursday night in early November in front of a national television audience, administered a massive dose of revenge, pulverizing them at will all afternoon.
The 30-0 final in no way indicates how thorough the Bengals eviscerated their in-state rivals. They did to the Browns what the Browns did to them all those weeks ago . . . and then some.
Just about every move the Browns tried on offense failed miserably and made Johnny Manziel’s starting debut a nightmare. The defense had few answers for a Bengals offense that was the antithesis of what it saw down in Cincinnati.
It started early with the Bengals taking 7:07 off the clock on the opening drive, rookie Jeremy Hill scoring the first of his two touchdowns from two yards out to climax a 14-play, 81-yard drive.
It ended with the Bengals, moving the ball another 86 yards with ridiculous ease on their final drive of the day in the final quarter, knocking another 8:44 off the clock, again in 14 plays, with third-string running back Rex Burkhead adding to the embarrassment from 10 yards out.
That’s 167 yards of real estate that produced 14 points in 28 plays and burned nearly 16 minutes in time of possession. To put that in perspective, the Browns gained 107 net yards total and ran only 38 plays in 21 minutes of possession time.
In between those long Cincinnati possessions, the Browns looked worse on offense than an expansion team playing its first exhibition game. They were at best inept and colossally clueless at worst.
The first-place Bengals arrived at the ballpark ready to play a football game, prepared to the hilt to avenge their embarrassing loss to the Browns at home. The Browns, now buried in the AFC North cellar, arrived at the ballpark ready to do anything but.
It was as though they took the Bengals for granted in this one the same way the Bengals took them for granted in the first game. The Bengals Sunday were the epitome of precision on offense and played defense with a snarl.
Everything seemed to work for them. Nothing worked for Cleveland. Why? Because the Bengals physically abused them all afternoon. The Bengals slapped them around and they took it.
It was as complete a game as could possibly be played in an NFL game. The game plan on both sides of the ball was carried out to perfection. The Browns cooperated by playing submissive football.
To give you some idea of how absolutely dominant the Bengals were, consider the following: The Browns recorded a puny five first downs (two less than the number of Spencer Lanning punts). Two were gained by penalty. Only three first downs the normal way in 10 possessions is not just embarrassing, it’s almost unheard of.
The Browns ran only four plays in Cincinnati territory all afternoon. They all came as part of a 10-play, 51-yard drive that ended with the first of Manziel’s two interceptions (a third was wiped out by a Cincinnati penalty), Adam Jones stepping in front of Taylor Gabriel at the goal line to make the pick.
Only one other drive lasted longer than three plays (six for 26 yards) and that ended with a Lanning punt. That’s it. That’s the sum and substance of the positive Browns’ yardage on this afternoon.
Just two possessions lasted more than three plays. That’s right. Seven three-and-outs in nine drives, not including the brief final one with just seconds to play. Take a bow, coaching staff.
It was truly a Factory of Sadness for Manziel and an offense that should be ashamed of its performance. Nothing went right for the rookie quarterback with the national media looking on in his much-anticipated debut game. He was awful. But he had plenty of company.
The overrated Cleveland offensive line gave him shaky pass protection. He was sacked three times and harassed on almost every dropback. And there was very little room for Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West to run.
It was as though the Bengals had stolen the Browns’ playbook and knew exactly what was going to unfold on every play on both sides of the ball. The Cincinnati offense bullied the Cleveland defense mercilessly and relentlessly.
No matter how many times the Bengals ran a counter play, the Browns couldn’t stop it. Hill picked up most of his yards on the play, which sees the backside offensive tackle and guard pull and lead the play on the opposite side of the formation. The running back takes one step either way, then counters and follows his blockers.
Hill, who belittled the Cleveland defense following the first game, backed up his words with a 25-carry, 148-yard afternoon and the two scores after being held to 55 yards in the first game. “They were worse than I thought to be honest with you,” he said then and proved himself correct this time around.
Giovani Bernard shredded the Cleveland defense for 79 more yards on the ground and 24 through the air as the Cincinnati ground game compiled 244 yards.
Now the cry will come that coach Mike Pettine, looking for any spark to revitalize his team, should never have benched Brian Hoyer for Manziel. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Browns were a team heading nowhere with Hoyer in charge and it was about time for the coaching staff to find out what they had in Manziel. But they never expected this. As it turned out, they couldn’t have picked a worse weekend to find out.
That doesn’t mean Manziel will resume his seat on the bench and Hoyer thrown a lifeline. Not with a three-game losing streak and all hopes for the playoffs extinguished.
Right now, the Browns are playing probably the worst offensive football in the entire NFL. It’s safe to say it can’t get any worse than this from an offensive standpoint. Can’t imagine anything worse than what the fans were forced to witness against the Bengals.
Hoyer is not the future of this team. Manziel is. He needs to play out the season. If he is not starting next Sunday in Carolina against the Panthers, then the problem with the Browns does not lie with the players.