Poor AJ Green. Hard not to feel sorry for him really. As he leapt approximately thirty eight feet through the air to snatch the catch that won the match (I’m discovering Dr. Seuss; bear with me) it was clear that, unlike most of us, he hadn’t spent Thursday afternoon eating mountains of pumpkin pie. Not for him an extra three turkey sandwiches. No piles of stuffing and gravy for AJ. Oh no.
Quarterback Andy Dalton entered more into the seasonal spirit of generosity, at least in the first half. When a poorly judged interception was rejected thanks to a defensive holding flag, the rookie made sure to extend his philanthropy with only the Bengals’ second fumble of the year on the next play. The Browns gave thanks indeed, and took a 17-7 lead into half time. This was somewhat surprising given that running back Cedric Benson had been gouging the Browns defense like a hot spoon through mashed potatoes and that the Browns appeared to have Oliver Twist at quarterback. However, our defense had temporarily forgotten how to tackle (though, to be fair, the Browns receivers had forgotten how to catch, which evened things up) and for the first time in weeks running back Peyton Hillis was not injured pretending to play another position, out with a bad case of the sniffles, or off getting married in Arkansas.
Despite another iffy day for the normally reliable Kevin Huber, special teams won the field position battle, Jeromy Miles and Dan Skuta putting monster hits on Browns return threat Josh Cribbs. And come the second half, the Bengals defense played like, well, the Bengals defense, middle linebacker Rey Maualuga wrestling Hillis backwards like a background scene from Gladiator, safety Reggie Nelson grabbing a key interception (I was going to make a joke about picking McCoy/Twist’s pocket but I won’t; you’re welcome), and defensive tackle Geno Atkins devastating McCoy with clean hit after clean hit. Ndamukong Suh could do with some lessons therein.
Dalton’s second half profligacy in the previous two games was put to bed, though things remained close. A fortunately botched snap not only killed a potentially game-winning field goal for the Browns but gave Dalton great field position with a minute or so on the clock, and with Jermaine Gresham’s earlier touchdown leaving the score at 20-20. It was almost over immediately—Dalton’s second play on the drive was supposed to be thrown into the stands, but came a little short and was nearly picked off. The CBS analyst’s “he was trying to throw that away” taking on a nerve-wracking double meaning. However, cometh the hour, cometh the man, and Dalton’s loft to the middle of the field allowed Green to make a play on Cleveland’s star cornerback Joe Haden, run the ball down to the two yard line, and give Mike Nugent the simplest of winning kicks in an otherwise cardiac-pounding encounter.
Final Score: Browns 20, Bengals 23