CLEVELAND - If there's any truth to the old adage that it is darkest just before the dawn, then yesterday was covered in shades of deep purples and thick grays bordering on black for the Cleveland Browns.
Color the Browns 1-3 after losing 21-14 at home to the Cincinnati Bengals.
“We got beat by a team that should not have beaten us,” said offensive tackle Barry Stokes.
Well, yes and no.
When a team's quarterback is sacked twice and pressured on no fewer than a dozen other occasions, when a defense generates no rush and allows nine third-down conversions out of 15 attempts by the opponent, when key passes are dropped, and when a team has more than 100 yards in penalties, well, anything is possible.
So, yes, Cleveland's performance yesterday certainly helped make it possible for the Bengals to win for the first time under coach Marvin Lewis, who saw quarterback Jon Kitna complete 23 of 31 passes and throw for three touchdowns.
Tim Couch got his first start of the season at quarterback for the Browns and played well enough to win with 280 yards and a pair of TDs.
But he and Quincy Morgan could not connect on an important third-down play with 21/2 minutes to play, then Couch threw his only interception with less than one minute remaining that sealed the decision before 73,428 fans at Cleveland Browns Stadium, where the home team is 0-2 this year and has lost five times in the last six tries dating to the 2002 season.
“We played about as poorly in several areas of this game as you could possibly play,” Cleveland coach Butch Davis said. “We couldn't have scripted a better start, with the offense scoring on its first possession. But you have to follow that up defensively. You have to go out there and slam the door. We didn't do that. Then we wasted scoring opportunities. The penalties absolutely killed us. We shot ourselves in the foot and it absolutely has to stop. I'm sick of losing.”
Cleveland led 7-0 less than one minute into the game as Couch, on a second-down play from his own 29, read a blitz and checked off to a quick release along the line of scrimmage to Morgan.
The receiver broke away from Bengals safety Rogers Beckett near the sideline, cut left to the middle of the field and found nothing but daylight for a 71-yard score.
But the Bengals came right back with a 14-play drive capped by a three-yard touchdown pass from Kitna to Chad Johnson. It was the first passing TD allowed this season by the Cleveland defense, but it would not be the last.
The Browns squandered one scoring opportunity when Morgan fumbled inside the Cincinnati 10 and survived another miscue when a TD pass to Kevin Johnson was called back because of holding. Later in that drive, Couch hit Jamel White out of the backfield for a score.
But Kitna struck again just before halftime, throwing 55 yards to Johnson, who took advantage of a blown coverage to get several strides ahead of safety Robert Griffith and pull Cincinnati into a 14-14 tie.
“Games in the NFL are hard enough to win without giving away big plays because of missed communications,” said free safety Earl Little.
“You give up plays, you give teams the chance to beat you,” said cornerback Daylon McCutcheon. “Instead of going in up seven, we give them all the momentum.”
The Bengals kept hold of it at the start of the second half, driving 80 yards in 10 plays - Cleveland chipped in 36 yards on a pass interference call against McCutcheon in the end zone that placed the ball at the 1 - with Kitna throwing to tight end Reggie Kelly for the score.
And that was all the Bengals needed.
Cleveland ran the ball just six times for 22 yards in the second half and Couch was constantly under pressure from the Bengals' rush.
“They were sitting on some stuff and bringing a lot of pressure,” Couch said.
The Bengals used a surprising running game, minus Corey Dillon who mostly stood and watched because of a groin injury, to burn the clock and limit Cleveland's chances.
The Browns started a drive with 4:32 to play with Couch throwing on third down to Morgan, who dropped it at midfield.
In Morgan's defense, the ball was thrown behind him. In Couch's defense, it should have been caught. Either way, the Browns had to punt.
With one last chance, Cincinnati cornerback Jeff Burris picked off a poorly-thrown Couch pass in Bengals territory with 0:51 left.
“We're not a very disciplined offensive team right now,” Couch said.
Nor a very successful one.41.50436 -81.69046