Presumably, Andy Dalton was starting the Browns defense in his fantasy league, because when his first underthrown pass to AJ Green was picked off by Joe Haden, that wasn’t enough for the misfiring Red Rifle. He fulfilled the definition of insanity by throwing exactly the same pass and this time, Haden took it to the house, putting the Browns up 13-0 before anybody even had time to order the first—and by then, much needed—round.
That was when (apologies to Browns fans) I texted a Cleveland fan friend of mine congratulating them on advancing to the postseason. But as inept as our quarterback’s November has been, apparently nobody told the defense or special teams who, lead by some surprise faces, made a mockery of my pessimism. James Harrison may have been the star of Hard Knocks, but he’s been largely anonymous throughout the first ten games. Having played college football in Northern Ohio, and professionally for the Steelers, he clearly wasn’t going to let himself be swept by the damn Browns. He immediately picked off a pass before dragging what seemed like half a dozen players over the line. The score was overturned on a block-in-the-back penalty, but the spectacle was visually stunning. It was like seeing Hagrid being attacked by a swarm of house elves (obligatory mid-season Harry Potter reference) or one of those “World’s Strongest Man” competitions where some guy carries a couple of forklift trucks down a road.
He wasn’t the only surprising name—Hard Knocks-fodder Jayson DiManche and J.K.Shaffer were in on the action as two punts were blocked, one of them carried home by fresh-off-the-practice-squad Tony Dye. Vontaze Burfict smashed a fumble into the floor, carried it to the endzone, and then ran off down the tunnel in celebration. Heck, the defense and special teams were so good that even the hitherto disastrous Andy Dalton threw a couple of touchdowns, one of them a beauty to Jermaine Gresham. The other was to Mo Sanu, who moments before had eased us down the field with a pass-back receiver-throw to Gio Bernard. Brilliant though it was, it’s worrying that our best passing play in weeks (save for the ridiculous Hail Mary) was from a wide receiver to a running back.
That 31-point second quarter was not only record-setting, it broke the back of the Browns, who never recovered. The defense cruelly harassed Jason Campbell, and when Michael Johnson picked off the pinball pass that closed the game—despite a pretty dreadful month—it sealed the Bengals place at the top of the mindblowingly mediocre AFC North. A bye week approaches, giving the beat-up defense a chance to breath, to rest, to heal. And it gives the offense a chance to, well, I don’t know, look at a playbook and try to remember what they were doing in October?
Final Score: Bengals 41, Browns 20
Man of The Match: Look, I’ll be honest, the whole D could be up for this. The 66-year-old Terence Newman pretty much blanketed the terrifyingly fast Josh Gordon, and the only notable moment in Jordan Cameron’s afternoon was an early “Oh, who’s he?” from my girlfriend. There were picks, sacks, and forced fumbles galore. We can’t forget special teams, with the blocked punts and Adam Jones’ lightning punt return. Vontaze Burfict was just everywhere. But James Harrison’s interception shifted the momentum of the game, not just the turnover itself, but the power, attitude, and message as he metaphorically carried the Bengals on his back by literally carrying the Browns. He also threw in a nice handful of those beasty tackles we were hoping to see. More of that, please.