Cleveland's Kenard Lang (96) lumbers down the sideline after intercepting a pass by Cincinnati's Gus Frerotte.
CLEVELAND - Throwing right-handed, Gus Frerotte mostly underthrew receivers, overthrew receivers, ignored wide-open receivers, took five sacks and tossed a couple interceptions.
Throwing left-handed, the Cincinnati quarterback was really bad.
Cleveland defensive end Kenard Lang turned Frerotte's biggest gaffe into the Browns' biggest play and helped saddle the Bengals with a 20-7 defeat yesterday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Trailing 10-0, Frerotte had Cincinnati at the Browns' 17 when he found himself in the grasp of defensive tackle Gerard Warren. He switched the ball to his left hand and attempted to shot-put a pass that fell right into Lang's hands.
The 6-3, 285-pounder took off on a clear path down the right sideline and lumbered 71 yards to the Bengals' 8 before Frerotte caught him from behind with a shoestring tackle.
“It was fun, but that was far enough,” Lang said. “I needed oxygen. I got to the 30 and my knees started wobbling. I got closer and closer and my eyes got bigger and bigger. I was just a little fat boy running and running and thinking, ‘Oh, man, just get there.'”
He didn't, but quarterback Kelly Holcomb had the answer two plays later with a strike to Kevin Johnson for the touchdown and a 17-0 lead with 21 seconds left in the first half.
“That play started with Gerard Warren making an absolutely incredible power rush that collapsed the pocket,” said Browns coach Butch Davis. “It was a huge emotional swing because it looked like they were going to score. Instead, we put points on the board right before going in at halftime and that tends to deflate the other team.”
Especially a team like the Bengals, who, to that point, had yet to score their first touchdown of the season. It finally came on a 22-yard Frerotte-to-Chad Johnson pass with 6:27 to play.
By then, the Browns had two TD passes from Holcomb (17-of-30, 198 yards) and field goals of 52 and 45 yards from Phil Dawson, more than enough to even their record at 1-1 and put to rest the previous Sunday's astonishing, last-play loss to Kansas City.
“We didn't just win this game today,” Davis said. “We won it during the week. The preparation was evident from Monday on by the way players looked at films, the way leaders stepped up. It showed by the way we were more on top of things.”
Not so with the Bengals, now 0-2 and offensively challenged despite the presence of running back Corey Dillon (22 carries, 108 yards) and a decent corps of receivers.
Frerotte, despite throwing for 239 yards, had a dismal 49.9 passer rating for the game with 21 incompletions and three interceptions.
“[Lang] was in the right spot at the right time,” Frerotte said. “I had the ball at the end of the half and I didn't want to take a sack. I had the ball in my left hand, my read was taking me to the left and I wanted to get it out in the direction that it would not be intentional grounding. [Warren] pulled me and it put the ball right in Kenard's hands. I take full responsibility for it.”
The Bengals also botched another first-half scoring chance, or did they?
Neil Rackers lined up for a 51-yard field goal attempt, but a direct snap to Rackers went awry and after recovering, he ended up punting the ball sideways and out of bounds for negative-two yards.
Bengals coach Dick LeBeau and holder Nick Harris, also the punter, said it was intended to be a punt all along, which just added to the mystery.
Whatever, Davis was willing to credit defensive improvement by his Browns, who surrendered 40 points a week earlier, for most of Cincinnati's problems.
“It was a little more typical of how we played a year ago with five sacks and three interceptions,” Davis said. “Hopefully, we can keep up that kind of play and continue to improve and become the defense that we're capable of being.”
Mark Word, subbing for injured defensive end Courtney Brown, had three sacks and two forced fumbles, linebacker Earl Holmes had 10 tackles, and linebacker Brant Boyer had nine tackles and an interception for the Browns.
The Bengals ran 83 plays, had a 357-265 edge in total net yards, a 28-15 first-down bulge and advanced into Cleveland territory on nine possessions, but managed just the lone score in dropping to 0-2.
“We outpossessed them, we outran them, we outgained them,” said Cincinnati's LeBeau. “But [the Browns] got the one play that changed the game at the end of the half.”