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NFL Week 4: Bengals’ season on the brink vs Browns

Despite its 0-3 start, Cincinnati is still only two games behind the division leaders.

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals
Carson Palmer
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Recent history aside, traveling to Cleveland is rarely an easy proposition for the Cincinnati Bengals.

While the Bengals have come away with some pretty emphatic victories the last three times they made the trip to First Energy Stadium, the city of Cleveland has not always been so hospitable.

Cincinnati dropped its inaugural game in First Energy Stadium in 2013 and lost two of three games at Cleveland Browns Stadium prior to that. Since 2000, the Bengals boast a 10-7 road record against the Browns. Cincinnati leads the overall series, which began in 1970, 48-39-0.

The Bengals come into the matchup fresh off a debilitating 27-24 overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers, while Cleveland saw a furious comeback fall short in Indianapolis only to fall by a 31-28 margin.

Few Browns fans will forget the remarks made in 1989 by Cincinnati’s then-head coach Sam Wyche, during a game against the Seattle Seahawks at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. In response to debris being thrown from the stands, Wyche told Cincinnati’s fans that “You don’t live in Cleveland, you live in Cincinnati!"

The game most long-time Bengals’ fans remember came in Cleveland in 2007 when the Browns won a 51-45 shootout.

Cleveland came into the game fresh off of a 34-7 blowout at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and most people expected more of the same when Cincinnati came to town looking for its second victory of the young season. What the Bengals got surprised almost everyone.

The Bengals jumped out to a 7-0 lead after a touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to Rudi Johnson, but the Browns closed the gap by the end of the first quarter after a pair of field goals by Phil Dawson.

The second quarter saw Browns quarterback Derek Anderson throw a pair of touchdown passes to Joe Jurevicius and another to Kellen Winslow, Jr., while Palmer countered with scoring strikes to T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson. Cleveland went into halftime with a 27-21 lead, but the fireworks had only just begun.

Cincinnati continued its scoring barrage into the third quarter as Palmer found Houshmandzadeh and Johnson free for touchdowns once again, and Shayne Graham added a field goal. But the Browns responded with a pair of touchdowns of their own on the strength of a 34-yard completion to Braylon Edwards and a 66-yard gallop by Jamal Lewis, and Cleveland clung to a 41-38 lead entering the final period.

Another long touchdown pass to Edwards, this time a 37-yarder, gave the Browns some cushion, and Dawson added another field goal to extend the lead to 51-38. Palmer threw his sixth touchdown pass of the afternoon when he hit Glen Holt on a 7-yard scoring strike with 3:39 left, but Cleveland held on for the victory. Lewis finished with 216 yards during what, at the time, was the eighth-highest scoring game in league history.

The Bengals got their revenge later that season when they denied the Browns a berth in the playoffs with a 19-14 victory in Cincinnati in the second-to-last game of the season.

Neither team looks to be a threat to make the playoffs this year, however, as only three teams have done so after an 0-3 start since 1990. But, barring a tie, one of these teams should come out of this game with its first victory of the season and some small measure of optimism.

Cincinnati will be buoyed by the return of its star linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who has completed his three-game suspension for a hit during the preseason that the NFL deemed excessive. Big plays have been the Achilles’ heel of a defense that has otherwise held its own so far this season.

Geno Atkins leads all defensive tackles with three sacks and Carl Lawson, the Bengals’ fourth-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft out of Auburn, picked up 2 ½ sacks Sunday in Green Bay. First-year cornerback William Jackson, III had a pick-six against Aaron Rodgers Sunday.

The Bengals finally found the end zone for the first time Sunday, and quarterback Andy Dalton seemed to return to form after completing 21 of 27 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns, although he continued to struggle with the long pass.

A.J. Green was his usual dominating self with 10 receptions for 111 yards and finally got the Bengals into the end zone with an 8-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter. Green has caught 20 passes for 252 yards so far this season, while Joe Mixon leads the Bengals ground game with 107 yards rushing on 35 carries Mixon had 62 yards on 18 carries Sunday.

Cleveland’s passing attack, led by rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, is a work in progress. Kizer has completed only 57 of 108 passes for 646 yards so far this season, with three touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Isaiah Crowell is the Browns’ leading rusher with 114 yards on 39 carries and two scores, while fellow running back Duke Johnson, Jr. leads all receivers with 11 receptions for 160 yards. Cleveland’s defense is paced by linebacker Christian Kirksey, who has recorded 1.5 sacks.