September 16, 2010

2007: Browns Outduel Bengals 51-45 in Wild Offensive Battle

It didn’t look good for the Cleveland Browns as they prepared to face their cross-state rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals, on September 16, 2007 at Cleveland Browns Stadium. They had been beaten badly in the opening game, 34-7 by the Steelers, and starting QB Charlie Frye not only was pulled from the game but traded to the Seattle Seahawks two days later. Second-year backup Derek Anderson (pictured at right), considered a placeholder until rookie QB Brady Quinn was ready, would be starting for just the fourth time in his career and had not yet led the Browns to a victory. The Bengals, meanwhile, were coming off of a Monday night win over the Baltimore Ravens. Compared to the Browns, the Cincinnati club seemed stable and solid.

The 6’6”, 220-pound Anderson started slowly, misfiring on his first five passes during the initial two Cleveland possessions. Meanwhile, the Bengals methodically moved the ball 63 yards in eight plays to take the early lead on a 13-yard TD pass from QB Carson Palmer to RB Rudi Johnson.

On Cincinnati’s next possession, Palmer threw an interception and the Browns capitalized as Phil Dawson kicked a 39-yard field goal. Dawson kicked another field goal just before the end of the first period to put the Browns a point behind the Bengals at 7-6.

Both offenses came alive in the second quarter, totaling five touchdowns. Anderson started things off with his first touchdown pass of the game, connecting with WR Joe Jurevicius from 17 yards out. Seven plays later it was Palmer hitting WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh for a 23-yard TD.

WR Josh Cribbs returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards to the Cincinnati 11 yard line, and Anderson again threw a scoring pass to Jurevicius of nine yards on the third play of the possession. Cleveland was now in front, 20-14, but the Bengals drove down the field, this time for 88 yards in seven plays and aided by three penalties on the Browns. Palmer tossed his third touchdown of the game, 22 yards to WR Chad Johnson (who legally changed his name to Chad Ochocinco in 2008).

The Browns weren’t finished yet as they took over following the kickoff at their 12 yard line. Just before the two-minute warning, RB Jamal Lewis took off on a 31-yard run. Anderson followed with three straight pass completions, including a 25-yard touchdown throw to TE Kellen Winslow Jr. Cleveland had a 27-21 lead at halftime.

The third quarter started badly for the Browns when, on their first play after receiving the second half kickoff, Anderson was intercepted by safety Dexter Jackson. The Bengals capitalized as Shayne Graham kicked a 20-yard field goal. Cleveland was undeterred, however, driving 78 yards in eight plays that included two passes from Anderson to WR Braylon Edwards, the first for 19 yards in a third-and-six situation and the second for a 34-yard touchdown that lengthened the Browns’ lead to 34-24.

The Bengals came back quickly as WR Glenn Holt returned the kickoff 65 yards to the Cleveland 34 yard line. Four plays later Palmer connected with Johnson for the second time with a 14-yard TD pass. The Browns responded with even greater speed when, on the first play after the kickoff, Lewis ran 66 yards for a touchdown. Once again, Cleveland had a ten-point lead at 41-31.

Cincinnati utilized the no-huddle offense almost exclusively in its next possession, and Palmer completed five passes in the resulting nine-play, 63-yard drive that ended with Houshmandzadeh scoring from five yards out on Palmer’s fifth TD pass. The 31-point third quarter ended shortly thereafter with the Browns ahead by 41-38.

The offensive onslaught slowed as the fourth quarter got underway. The Bengals were stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-one play at midfield but Cleveland went three-and-out in response. However, the Browns regained the momentum as, first, Anderson connected with TE Steve Heiden on a 27-yard pass play and Lewis followed up with a 14-yard run to the Cincinnati 48. Two passes later Anderson hit Edwards for a 37-yard touchdown and, with the successful PAT, the Browns were ahead by ten again at 48-38.

After the Bengals were forced to punt on their next possession, Lewis took off on another long run, this time of 47 yards down to the Cincinnati 23. Anderson threw an 18-yard pass to Winslow and, while the Browns weren’t able to get the ball into the end zone, Dawson extended the lead with an 18-yard field goal.

Once more the Cincinnati offense drove down the field, with a Palmer to Johnson pass play that covered 32 yards highlighting an 11-play possession that went 64 yards and resulted in Palmer’s sixth touchdown pass of the contest - Holt hauled in the seven-yard scoring throw.

Cleveland was able to run the clock down to just over a minute as Dave Zastudil punted the ball 45 yards and it went out of bounds at the Bengals’ 9. Needing a touchdown and with no timeouts remaining, Palmer completed two short passes before hitting Johnson for a 30-yard completion to midfield. However, his attempt to pass to Johnson once again along the sideline was intercepted by CB Leigh Bodden with 21 seconds left. The Browns had successfully held on to win by the improbable score of 51-45.

The offensive numbers were as staggering as the score implied. The teams combined for 1085 total yards (Cleveland had the edge by 554 to 531). Cincinnati led in first downs (33 to 23) and time of possession (31:20 to 28:40); the Bengals also suffered the most turnovers (three to one).

In defeat, Carson Palmer (pictured at left) had put up the greater passing numbers, completing 33 of 50 passes for 401 yards with 6 TDs and two interceptions. Likewise, Chad Johnson caught 11 passes for 209 yards and two scores; T.J. Houshmandzadeh contributed another 8 receptions for 69 yards and two TDs. Rudi Johnson ran for 118 yards on 23 carries.

Derek Anderson’s statistics were certainly impressive, all the more so because so much less was anticipated: 20 completions of 33 passes for 328 yards with 5 touchdowns and one picked off. Jamal Lewis, an offseason acquisition who had been a top ground gainer for six years with the Baltimore Ravens, ran for 216 yards on 27 carries and a touchdown. Top receiver for the Browns was Braylon Edwards with 8 catches for 146 yards and two TDs; Kellen Winslow Jr. accumulated an even 100 yards on 6 receptions with a score. Thus, the Browns had a 300-yard passer, two 100-yard receivers, and a 200-yard rusher in the same game – a franchise first.

In tying a Cleveland team record with five touchdown passes, Anderson doubled his career total to date. The game also marked the third time in NFL history that both quarterbacks in a game threw at least five touchdown passes. However, it was not the highest scoring game ever between the two division rivals – the Bengals had beaten the Browns 58-48 in a 2004 contest.

The Browns went on to finish the season with a 10-6 record, the best since the re-formed team had joined the NFL in 1999, to place second in the AFC North and just miss the playoffs (division-winning Pittsburgh was also 10-6, but swept both games of the season series). Cincinnati was in third place, with a disappointing 7-9 tally.

Derek Anderson went on to have a career year, leading the league in yards per completion (12.7) while throwing for 3787 yards and 29 touchdowns. However, he also tied for second in interceptions thrown with 19. He was selected to the Pro Bowl. But thus far, he has not come close to duplicating those numbers.

Jamal Lewis (pictured below) gained 1304 yards on 298 carries (a 4.4-yard average gain) with nine TDs. It was his best showing since his 2066-yard season in 2003 with the Ravens.

Carson Palmer had a career high with 4131 yards through the air and ended up with 26 touchdown passes. However, he was also co-leader in passes intercepted (20, along with Detroit’s Jon Kitna and Eli Manning of the Giants).