Browns' big hopes for second half dashed

CINCINNATI -- The Browns talked big all week about playing big in a big game.

They didn't.

They started well, fell apart in the second quarter and never recovered. Cincinnati won going away, 41-20, giving the impression the Bengals are a team at a certain level while the Browns are trying to get to that level.

“We're not ready,” said safety T.J. Ward. “We're not ready.”

“We are all working to get there, and we're going to continue to do so,” said coach Rob Chudzinski. “It's one game. We have to accept the outcome and get better from it.”

The practical implications of one game are more than large, though.

The day started with Merrill Hoge of ESPN jumping on the excitement bandwagon to say he thought the Browns would beat the Bengals and win the AFC North.

In the week leading up to the game, people in Cleveland talked about how Jason Campbell was the best quarterback in the division -- logic that seems illogical given the other guys playing.

It had the Browns talking about how exciting it was to play in a meaningful game in November.

It had fans abuzz and national chatter growing.

Some it was justified, of course, especially viewed through the Browns prism of ineptitude and struggle for 13 years. But some of it was quirky for a sub-.500 team that now has lost four-of-five games.

It ended with the Browns tied for last in the AFC North with Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Instead of playing Pittsburgh in a week with a tie for first place at stake, the Browns and Steelers play to see who gets out of the basement -- or to stay in second place if that's your point of view.

Cincinnati has seven wins and is headed to a division title barring an epic collapse.

To even think about the playoffs the Browns have to finish 9-7, which means winning five of six, with games left against New England, Chicago and two against Pittsburgh.

This would be a long longshot.

And this reality is why the Browns were so bitter after the game.

They saw Cincinnati score 31 points in the first half despite having just three first downs.

“That's something you don't see very often, that's for sure,” Chudzinski said.

For the game the Browns had more first downs (15-10), more yards (330-224) and more passing yards (228-118), yet they lost by 21.

“At no point did we feel like they enforced their will on us,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “We were never sitting on the sidelines saying, ‘What's going on?' with our head spinning.”

Yet they lost, and they lost because they had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown. They had a fumble returned for a touchdown. They threw an interception that set up a touchdown. And they had another punt tipped that went 9 yards and set up a short field and a touchdown.

And that all happened in one quarter.

In cases small and large, they bungled their chance. After Haden gave them a 13-0 lead with an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter, they gave the Bengals 31 points in the second quarter, a franchise record for a single quarter.

“You have to play every play,” Chudzinski said. “When you don't, that turns the game.”

That was a common theme with the team. They need everyone to do their job on every play.

“That's why this is the greatest team sport,” Ward said. “Everybody has to pull their weight. No group is less important than the next.

“Today, we proved that.”

Some of the Browns disputed it, but the game gave the clear indication of one team at a certain level beating up on a team that is trying to get to that level.