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Published: Monday, 10/5/2009

Browns improve but still fall to 0-4

BY TONY GROSSI
(CLEVELAND) PLAIN DEALER
Shayne Graham celebrates after his game-winning kick. Shayne Graham celebrates after his game-winning kick.
MARK DUNCAN / AP Enlarge

The Browns finally put together four quarters of solid, complementary, at times exciting, football.

Wouldn't you know it still wasn't enough? They needed five.

They lost a heartbreaker to the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 on a Shayne Graham field goal as the overtime period expired.

Graham nearly missed the 31-yard kick wide right trying to avoid Shaun Rogers' huge paws. Rogers, the NFL's active leader in career blocked kicks with 15, rejected a Graham field goal try of 23 yards in the first quarter and an extra point in the fourth quarter to force the overtime.

All was not lost, however, in the Browns' fourth straight defeat under new coach Eric Mangini and 10th in a row overall.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis called return specialist Josh Cribbs "the equalizer" for jump-starting several Browns possessions with his 223 return yards. And Derek Anderson, in his first start in relief of benched Brady Quinn, lifted his moribund team with his rocket arm.

Anderson teamed with rookie receiver Mohamed Massaquoi for four completions of 20 yards or more.

Massaquoi had a breakout day, totaling 148 yards on eight catches. He missed a touchdown when his knee touched the ground two feet short of the goal line. Massaquoi was Anderson's target 13 times, while Braylon Edwards was shut out for the first time in his career.

"Once we get him and Braylon going at the same time, I think that we can do a lot of different things," said Anderson, who outdueled Cincinnati's Carson Palmer except for one play.

Anderson's "stretch offense" opened up running room for Jerome Harrison, who had a career-high 121 yards rushing on 29 attempts. It also energized the maligned Rob Ryan defense, which contained Bengals back Cedric Benson (74 yards on 18 attempts) and Palmer (230 yards passing and two TDs).

Despite being on the field for 13 1/2 of the game's first 15 minutes, the Browns' defense gained strength through the day. After halftime, it forced punts on six of Cincinnati's last eight possessions.

But with the game on the line, Palmer made the day's biggest play on a 15-yard scramble on fourth-and-11 as overtime ticked under one minute to play. Lewis thought about punting, but Palmer talked him out of it.

"A lot of coaches, it's their ego or it's their way or the highway," Palmer said. "Marvin listens to guys around him and makes the best decisions possible."

The Browns covered Palmer's four receivers with a two-deep zone and left the middle of the field an empty wasteland. Palmer, who missed three preseason games with a high ankle sprain, scrambled for the killer first down.

Graham booted the game-winner three plays later, giving the Bengals a share of first place in the AFC North with a 3-1 record.

"[Palmer] can still move around," said safety Brodney Pool, who nabbed the Browns' first interception of the season. "He's one of the best quarterbacks in the league. That was a big play right there. We played decent, but not well enough."

Anderson was complimentary of the defense. "I think our defense played unbelievable today," he said.

The Browns pecked away at a 14-0 deficit on a Steve Heiden one-yard TD catch and a one-yard run by Anderson.

They clung to their biggest lead of the season, 20-14, on two Billy Cundiff field goals in the fourth quarter.



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