CINCINNATI — Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson went out for sushi Wednesday night. They buried their disappointing rookie debuts and encouraged each other for a better showing against the Bengals on Sunday.
They parlayed their night out into a pair of sensational performances. But it wasn't enough to overcome three huge plays by the Bengals surrendered by the special teams and a defense playing without starting cornerbacks Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown. The back-breakers en route to the 34-27 loss were an 81-yard Pacman Jones punt return for a touchdown less than two minutes in and Andy Dalton TD passes of 44 and 50 yards in the second half.
"We talked about our goals," said Richardson of the power dinner between the two first-round draft picks. "[About] how we need to stick together. I let Brandon know ‘we're 100 percent behind you.' We're rookies, and we're young, but we've got to have a voice on this team too. Just showing leadership by example and making big plays — that's one thing we tried to do out there today.'
Weeden, written off by some fans after his four interceptions and dismal 5.1 rating last week, completed 26 of 37 attempts — 70 percent — for 322 yards and two TDs, with no interceptions for a 114.9 rating. The TD passes were a 23-yard checkdown to Richardson in the third quarter and a 24-yarder over the middle to Greg Little in the fourth.
Weeden's yardage total was a Browns rookie record.
"Brandon was controlling the game, making all the right calls, being the voice in the huddle," Richardson said. "He was acting like a real, true professional, like he had been around for a while."
He got plenty of help from Richardson, who last week rushed for only 39 yards in his first game back from arthroscopic knee surgery on Aug. 9. Richardson, perhaps motivated by Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga's review of his debut as "nothing spectacular," rushed for 109 yards on 19 carries for a 5.7-yard average.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
He rumbled 32 yards for his first NFL TD in the second quarter to pull the Brown within 14-10, and his scoring reception narrowed their deficit to 24-17 with seven seconds left in the third. On the run, Richardson bounced outside to elude a Bengal. On the catch, he broke three tackles and spun away from a fourth defender into the end zone.
Afterwards, he flexed his muscles and handed the ball to Weeden for his first TD pass. The score cashed in on D'Qwell Jackson's second interception in as many weeks, this one courtesy of a Dimitri Patterson deflection.
"He's a special player," Weeden said of Richardson. "He's a difference-maker, and today he showed that. We asked a lot of him today, not only in the running game, but he caught some balls out of the backfield and did some things there. I'm ready to see [the TD catch] on tape because, from my angle, it was one of the most explosive plays — unbelievable plays — that I've seen in a while. We're closer, but it would still feel a lot better if we could get a little W."
Richardson admitted that Maualuga's remarks had him stoked. "Yes. I used them as motivation," he said. "I actually talked to him after the game. He said, ‘I respect your game.'?"
Weeden had to play catch-up right from the start, after Jones scored on the 81-yard punt return just 1:47 into the game.
"When you're on the road, momentum-wise, it's tough to overcome things like that," Weeden said. "You get a crowd like that and you get 'em fired up. We always had to answer and try to tie things up here and there. It was an explosive play from Pacman. But we fought."
The Browns' young secondary battled, but was strained by the loss of Haden to his suspension and Brown to a neck stinger. Brown saw only one play, keeping his 162-game playing streak alive. Second-year pro Buster Skrine started opposite Dimitri Patterson, and rookie Trevin Wade saw plenty of action in sub-defenses.
Skrine gave up a number of key plays and was flagged 31 yards for pass interference that led to a field goal.
"I don't think I played that well," Skrine said. "I've got to come back and work harder."
Patterson helped hold A.J. Green to 58 yards, but Green spun past him for a 10-yard TD that put Cincy up, 14-3, in the second. Safety Eric Hagg, who missed part of the game with an eye injury, surrendered the 44-yard TD catch to Brandon Tate that made it 24-10.
Wade got caught on the short pass to Andrew Hawkins that the receiver turned into a 50-yard TD for a 31-17 Bengals edge in the fourth.
Weeden came back with the TD to Little to make it 31-24, reaching over a lineman to make the throw, but the Bengals got a Mike Nugent field goal to put the game out of reach.