Currently sitting at 2-4 after six tough weeks, the Cincinnati Bengals’ schedule has been anything but smooth sailing. But, it’s about to get a lot easier as the Bengals face off against the NFL’s only remaining team to have yet to win a game this season, the Cleveland Browns. Historically, the Bengals’ and Browns’ close proximity and shared history have caused them to be staunch rivals, whether or not either team was playing well at the time.
The rivalry between the Bengals and Browns is unique in the fact that the rivalry extends well beyond the inception of the Bengals as a team, but still for football reasons. It might seem hard to wrap your head around this concept given the current state of their franchise, but there was a time when the Cleveland Browns were by far one of the most dominant teams in football.
From their very first season, the Browns dominated the old All American Football Conference with the help of future Bengals founder, Paul Brown. They won all four of the league’s titles before the AAFC and NFL merged in December of 1949. The Browns won the first championship in the merged league and two more before Brown (who Cleveland’s team is named after) was fired immediately before the 1964 championship season - the last professional championship the city of Cleveland would see until the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championship in the 2015-16 NBA season.
As you would probably expect from one of the greatest football minds in the history of the NFL, Brown didn’t take too kindly to having his team taken away from him. After a few years away from the game, he formed a group with John Sawyer and Austin Knowlton to start a new football team in Ohio, the Cincinnati Bengals of the American Football League.
The very first game between the two franchises took place after the NFL-AFL merger on October 11, 1970. The Bengals put up an admirable effort against the Browns, but let the game get too far out of reach in the fourth quarter. Speedy Thomas’ 16 yard touchdown pass from Bengals quarterback Virgil Carter brought the score within three points for the Bengals, but they were unable to finish off the comeback and lost the game by a score of 30-27.
Perhaps one of the most emotional moments in Bengals history came when the Bengals played the Browns again a month later in Cincinnati. The game was much more defensive than their first meeting, but the Bengals managed to record a win over the Browns for the very first time, with a 14-10 score.
“This was my best victory,” Brown said in the locker room after the victory.
You know it was an important victory for Brown when he considered it his best victory over all seven of his league championships with the Browns.
The Bengals went on to lose their next five meetings with the Browns, but won nine of their next 12 after that. By the time the Bengals had “arrived” in the 1980s, they were sitting squarely at 10-10 with regards to their all-time matchups with their in-state rivals.
In the 1980s, the Bengals and Browns were both two of the better teams in the NFL and their head to head matchups reflected that balance. The Bengals gained the upper-hand in the all time record, but largely because there were an uneven number of games in the decade due to the strike shortened 1982 season. The Bengals won the decade with a record of 10-9 and moved to 20-19 all-time.
The 1990s are remembered in Bengals history as the ‘dark ages’ due to the absolutely abysmal state of the Bengals’ franchise. The team was good in 1990 and won both of their matchups with the Browns in the process, but only won two of the remaining 10 games with the Browns before Browns owner Art Modell picked the team up and moved the whole operation to Baltimore, giving birth to the Ravens.
Appropriately enough, the final home game for the original Browns took place on December 17, 1995 against the rival Bengals. Perhaps fueled by the emotions of their final game in Cleveland, the Browns demolished the hapless Bengals by a score of 26-10, which only looked somewhat manageable due to a late garbage time touchdown run by Bengals running back Eric Bieniemy.
Since the Browns returned to the NFL via expansion in 1999, they have been one of the worst performing franchises throughout the league. That hasn’t always translated into wins for the Bengals when the two teams meet bi-annually. But, the Bengals have managed to win 21 of the 33 games in that period.
One of those wins involved the highest scoring game in the modern history of the NFL (since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger). The Bengals hosted the Browns on November 28, 2004 and saw absolutely atrocious defensive performances for both teams. Browns quarterback Kelly Holcomb looked unbelievable on the day with 30 completions for 413 yards and five touchdowns. But, the combination of Carson Palmer’s 22 completions for 251 yards and four touchdowns and Rudi Johnson’s 26 rushing attempts for 202 yards and two touchdowns helped the Bengals see through a 58-48 victory. The only higher scoring game in NFL history happened before the Bengals ever existed in 1966, when the New York Giants defeated the Washington Redskins by a score of 72-41.
Interestingly enough, the Bengals and Browns also played an ultra-high scoring game a few seasons later, when the Browns beat the Bengals by a score of 51-45. It ranks as the eighth highest scoring game of all time, and the sixth highest of the modern NFL era.
During the Marvin Lewis era, the Bengals have played a slew of different Browns quarterbacks. This week, they’ll face Cody Kessler, the 16th starting Browns quarterback Lewis has faced in his 27 games against Cleveland. Here’s a list of each of the Browns quarterbacks Lewis has coached the Bengals to play against, yielding an 18-8 record for the Bengals during Lewis’ time coaching the team:
- Tim Couch (1-1)
- Jeff Garcia (0-1)
- Kelly Holcomb (1-0)
- Trent Dilfer (1-0)
- Charlie Frye (3-0)
- Derek Anderson (2-2)
- Ken Dorsey (1-0)
- Brady Quinn (1-0)
- Seneca Wallace (0-1)
- Colt McCoy (3-0)
- Brandon Weeden (1-1)
- Brian Hoyer (0-2)
- Jason Campbell (1-0)
- Johnny Manziel (2-0)
- Austin Davis (1-0)
In the Dalton-Green era, the Bengals have generally dominated the Browns, although there have been a few bad games here and there. The Bengals swept the Browns in 2011 by a combined score of 50-37, split the series in 2012, 2013, and 2014, and then Cincinnati swept again in 2015 by an astounding combined score of 68-13. Remember the games against Manziel? Those were some quality times, both for entertainment and winning purposes.
Throughout most of the history of the Bengals-Browns rivalry, things have been fairly heated and competitive. But, the Bengals are ahead in the series with a record of 46-39. This week, they will hope to give their confounding 2016 season a proverbial shot in the arm by adding win No. 47 to the tally.