If someone had told me before the game that the Browns would be without the services of Trent Richardson for the entire second half, I might not have even watched. I definitely wouldn't have believed they would win the game by a score of 34-24. I wouldn't have believed that Montario Hardesty would enter the game in the second quarter and be the one to get the Browns' running game rolling and finish the day with 56 yards on 15 carries, including a touchdown that gave the Browns the lead for good.
I wouldn't have believed that the Browns would score 27 points in the second half to get their first division win in over two years and their first win period since Week 11 of last season. I wouldn't have believed that Sheldon Brown would have an interception return for a touchdown 10 seconds after Brandon Weeden found a wide open Benjamin Watson in the end zone to put the Browns up 10 midway through the 4th quarter. It seemed as if Brown's "pick six" was just piling on at that point as the home team doubled up their divisional rivals from Southwestern Ohio. Yes, piling on. Yes, the Cleveland Browns. You better believe it.
Of course, the game wasn't without its head-scratching moments. The first came after Brandon Weeden had a pass swatted in the air by Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins that fell into the arms of defensive end Michael Johnson. Moments later, the Browns secondary fell asleep at the wheel and allowed Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham to turn a simple slant route into a 55 yard touchdown catch and run. The score put the Bengals up 7-0 in the first quarter and you couldn't help but think, "Here we go again."
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Fortunately, Brandon Weeden decided to celebrate his 29th birthday by slinging a 71-yard bomb to a wide-open Josh Gordon on the Browns' second play of the second quarter to tie the score. Gordon, who the Browns spent their 2013 second round draft pick on in this summer's Supplemental Draft has already paid off more than anyone could have imagined. He has 10 receptions for 242 yards and three touchdowns this season. Not bad for a guy who nobody had even heard of before July.
Later in the half, Andy Dalton found the spectacular AJ Green in the end zone for what would be his first of two touchdowns on the day. The Bengals appeared as if they would score again as the closing seconds ticked off the clock but Dalton couldn't get up to the line to spike the ball with enough time left to get the field goal unit on for an attempt. For a moment, it looked like the refs might call everyone back out when the TV broadcast showed that there was indeed a fraction of a second left on the clock when Dalton spiked the ball. But that call never came. The Browns went into the locker room down 14-7 knowing they were getting the ball to start the second half. It appeared they knew their luck was about to change.
Momentum completely shifted in the second half as the Browns defense forced the Bengals into bad situations time and time again. Joe Haden, celebrating his first game back from suspension, intercepted Dalton on one series to put the Browns in great field position. They capitalized with a field goal. On the ensuing possession, the Browns forced the Bengals to punt and Josh Cribbs ripped off a 60-yard return to the Bengals 30-yard line. Phil Dawson nailed another field goal to bring the Browns within one point, 14-13.
The Bengals offense stumbled throughout the second half and after the scores by Hardesty, Watson, and Brown, the Browns simply had to hold on for the remaining five minutes of the game to give head coach Pat Shurmur his first victory of the season. Despite a late touchdown from Dalton to Green, the Bengals, who have now dropped two straight to teams they should have beaten, enter Week 7 at 3-3, leaving Baltimore all alone at the top of the AFC North.
Perhaps the most satisfying thing about the Browns' victory was that it was a complete team effort and they didn't let the fact that they got down early or that they lost their star player to allow them to hang their heads and give up. People, myself included, shake their heads at Shurmur for always remarking how his team "battled." But honestly, no other word seems appropriate coming out of that win. They battled for Shurmur whose seat couldn‘t be any warmer. They battled for the fans of Cleveland who have stood by them in the worst of times. And they battled for themselves because they simply have too much pride to let what has happened for far too long in Cleveland, continue any longer.
With the league owners convening this Tuesday to officially approve the sale of the team to new owner Jimmy Haslam III, it seems appropriate to usher in a new era on the heels of a victory. For Haslam, Shurmur, the players and the fans, let's hope this is just the start of something good for a long, long time.