The Bengals have looked hot-and-cold on the rainy PBS turf so far in the second battle of Ohio contest of 2011—mostly cold—and are down 17-7 at the half.
Bengals won the toss and deferred to the second half, giving the Browns the ball to start the game.
Both Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty dressed for the Browns and both got early opportunities. Hillis got the ball on just the second play of the game, gaining 3 yards and a converting a first down.
The Browns had not scored a touchdown on an opening possession in 17 straight games. That ended when Colt McCoy hit Jordan Norwood for 24 yards in the end zone as Nate Clements fell down on the play. It was after Clements had fallen down to allow a Norwood to catch a 36-yard pass from McCoy.
An ugly start for the Bengals secondary, which has been identified as the team’s primary weakness after a season-ending injury for CB Leon Hall.
The Bengals took over on offense and proceeded to go backwards. Facing a 3rd-and-19 on their 3rd play of the game, the Bengals went to the guy who just makes plays: Andrew Hawkins. Hawkins took the WR screen and gained 20 yards and a first down. The drive would continue all the way to the Browns one-yard line.
Facing fourth down, the Bengals went for it from the ½ yard line and were stopped when Cedric Benson was tripped up. The Browns goal-line stand further deflated the Bengals, with both the offense and defense failing when it mattered on their first opportunities.
But things slowly started to shift their way. On the ensuing Browns drive, the Bengals stopped them on 3rd down thanks to a Marvin Lewis challenge on the spot of Colt McCoy’s 3rd down scramble. The ruling was overturned, making it 4th-and-one, forcing a Browns punt. The defensive stand allowed the Bengals offense to get another chance, this time at the Cleveland 46.
Three plays later, Cedric Benson took it in from 16 yards out. Seven up. Benson had a long run and AJ Green a nice catch to set up the score.
The touchdown gave Benson 64 yards in the first quarter alone.
The Browns responded with a 14-play drive that only slowed inside the Bengals 20-yard line when Robert Geathers sacked McCoy. The Bengal defense looked slow in pass coverage, and softer than usual on the run game. The drive culminated in Phil Dawson’s 32-yard field goal and a 10-7 Cleveland lead with just over 9 minutes left in the first half.
The Bengal offense sputtered on the ensuing drive, and had to punt after Andy Dalton was sacked on 3rd-and-12. Kevin Huber’s punt put the Browns back on offense at their own 36-yard line.
After a Browns three-and-out, the Bengals got the ball back, down by 3 at their own 14 yard line. After a few positive plays, they were forced to punt again with 3:02 left in the first half. The Browns took over at their own 28 yard line with 2:52 left in the half.
After three Browns incompletions, Cleveland had to punt with 1:45 left. The drive helped the Bengals in that the three straight incompletions conserved a great deal of time, especially since Cincinnati had only 1 time out left. The Bengals avoided tragedy when an Andy Dalton interception was negated thanks to a defensive holding penalty. But on the very next play, tragedy struck again when Andy Dalton was stripped in the pocket with the Browns recovering deep in Bengal territory. Andre Smith was beaten badly on the play, and had the first shot at the fumble recovery but couldn’t snag it.
With 33 seconds left the Browns got the ball at the Bengals 14 yard line. With 9 seconds left, McCoy found Greg Little in the end zone. 17-7 Cleveland. It was Little’s first career TD.
The Bengals were greeted with boos from the home fans on the way to the locker room, and the boos were well-deserved.
McCoy finished the first half only 8-of-18, but with 2 touchdown passes. Peyton Hillis was averaging 4.2 yards per carry. The Browns had 12 first downs to Cincy’s 8, and sported a 187 to 143 lead in total yards.
The Bengals will get the ball first to start the second half, but they will need more comeback magic to win the game. The offense needs to protect Dalton better and take advantage of the holes in Cleveland’s defensive front. On defense, the Bengals must stop Hillis and get better pressure on McCoy.