One of the best things about playing in the AFC North is sharing the division with the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals get to break up their tough schedules and play the laughing stock of the NFL twice a year. The constant interaction gives us a lot of great moments to remember. Now with that said, things could soon change for the Browns, but we’ve got to enjoy their bottom-feeder history while we can.
The Browns and the Bengals have a long history as both being Paul Brown’s franchises. Playing twice a year since 1970, the Browns actually held on to the series lead until 1984. The Bengals are now in front 50-39 and are in the thick of a seven-game winning streak.
It’s actually quite sad to see how far the Browns have fallen. Paul Brown is still considered one of the most innovative coaches the NFL has seen, giving us not only two franchises, but also the playbook, the helmet radio, the facemask, and much, much more.
As a head coach, Brown led the Browns to four AAFC championships in four seasons. When the AAFC merged with the NFL in 1950, the Browns won the NFL Championship in their first season in the league. They would go on to win two more championships in the next four years with hall of famers like Otto Graham and Jim Brown. In total, the Browns appeared in 10 championship games in their first 10 years as a franchise from 1946-1955, winning seven of them. They would win one of three more championship games over the next decade, but they never returned to their former dominance.
Things really went south when the Browns met the Denver Broncos in the 1986 AFC Championship. The Browns held a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter when “the Drive” happened, and John Elway led the Broncos to a miraculous victory.
To further add to the Browns’ troubles, one of the greatest coaches of all time was on their staff until they fired him in 1995. That coach was, of course, five-time Super Bowl champion Bill Belichick. Coincidentally enough, the Browns last playoff win was in 1995 with Belichick at the helm — against the New England Patriots.
In 1995, the Browns moved to Baltimore, taking all of their good luck with them. The NFL brought a franchise back to Cleveland in 1999, but all of the glory of the Browns did not return. It is this version of the Browns that has become the AFC North’s clowns.
Being division rivals and state mates with the Brownies has given us a lot of fun memories to reflect on. I have decided to pick out the top five Browns fails against the Bengals and rank them for your entertainment.
5. Robert Griffin III throws flea-flicker into triple coverage - Dec. 11, 2016
Most of these fails are going to involve bad quarterback play, which seems to be the monkey on the Browns’ back.
Griffin and the Browns were destined for one another. Both have great history, the Browns with the AAFC and the pre-merger NFL, and Griffin with Baylor. But any potential they had has been dashed to the ground and splintered into a million pieces. So naturally, their paths crossed in March 2016 when Griffin became the 25th starting quarterback for the Browns since 1999.
Griffin took the field looking to turn his career around (but two years later, sadly, is still looking — now with the Ravens). But one play above all others summarizes Griffin and the Browns.
The Browns were losing to the Bengals 13-0 about halfway through the second quarter. Thanks to a great punt from Kevin Huber, the Browns were on their own 2-yard line. Former Bengals offensive coordinator turned Browns head coach Hue Jackson needed something to get his team back in the game. So he dug into his bag of tricks and pulled out a flea-flicker.
Griffin took the snap from under center and handed it off to running back Duke Johnson. After taking a few steps, Johnson pivoted and tossed the ball back to Griffin, now in his own end zone. Griffin then heaved the ball to Terrelle Pryor, who was being covered by Dre Kirkpatrick, George Iloka, and Shawn Williams. Iloka won the jump ball and returned the pick 21 yards. Tyler Eifert scored a touchdown five plays later.
Griffin could have lobbed it to Corey Coleman, who was only in single coverage against Adam Jones. Instead, he took his chances (which were 1 out of 4) with Pryor, and threw an interception.
Griffin is the last quarterback to win a game for Cleveland, back in Week 16 of the 2016 season.
4. Christian Kirksey pulls Jeremy Hill out of the stands - Dec. 6, 2015
This one is funny because it took a whole year of build-up to reach.
It all started on Dec. 14, 2014 in Cleveland. Jeremy Hill scored a touchdown in the second quarter to put the Bengals up 17-0. Hill then went on to celebrate by doing the First Energy Stadium version of the “Lambeau Leap” (because “C-leap-land” just doesn’t have the same ring). Unfortunately for Hill, he jumped right into the unwelcoming arms of a Browns fan.
The Browns ended up losing that game 30-0, which also happened to be Johnny Manziel’s first career start. Don’t worry, I will circle back to Johnny Football in a second.
One year later, on Dec. 6, 2015, the Bengals played in Cleveland and won decisively again. Hill once again scored a touchdown. Hill once again jumped into the stands. This time, he found some Bengals fans and was left to celebrate the score unbothered by the home crowd.
Hill still wouldn’t be left totally alone however, as Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey pulled Hill out of the stands and exchanged some words. This led to a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for Kirksey.
“Don’t do that,” Kirksey later admitted to telling Hill. Down 27-3, its no wonder he was getting emotional.
Believeland cheered on their linebacker during the confrontation, but Kirksey says he didn’t hear it.
“I was zoned out,” he said. “Trying to protect the end zone, trying to protect the house.”
The operative word here is “trying.” He did not do a very good job, since the Bengals ended up winning 37-3 that day. So, in games where Hill leaps into the front row of First Energy Stadium, the Bengals have outscored the Browns 67-3.
I’m not trying to say what Kirksey was trying to do wasn’t admirable; it was. Hill even admitted that he would be upset of someone leapt into the stands at Paul Brown Stadium in a similar fashion. But giving up 37 points and then claiming to be “protecting the end zone” is classic Brownies.
3. Johnny Manziel’s first career start - Dec. 14, 2014
Part of the Browns’ sad history is drafting doomed players, usually quarterbacks. In 2013, Brian Hoyer became the 20th quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999. The Browns were not completely satisfied with his play, though, so they looked for a quarterback in the draft. In the first round they selected Manziel out of Texas A&M.
Manziel looked good on paper, from a football perspective. In 2012 he was the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy and he put up even better numbers in his sophomore season. After playing for the Aggies for two years, he passed for 7,820 yards and 63 touchdowns with a 164.1 passer rating. He also rushed for 2,169 yards with 30 touchdowns and an average of 6.3 yards per carry. But he was surrounded by a litany of red flags off the field, which the Browns foolishly chose to ignore.
The Browns limped through 2014 with Hoyer until Dec. 14. Finally, the Browns—the team that struggled to find a solid quarterback for 15 years—turned to their first round draft pick and gave Johnny Football the nod. His first start came against the Bengals.
The Browns lost 30-0 that day.
Leading up to this game, Marvin Lewis revealed his true feelings about Manziel in an interview with Lance McAllister.
“You’ve got to go defend the offense,” he said. “You don’t defend the player, particularly a midget.”
Manziel is only 5’11”, but Lewis vocalized what everyone felt about Manziel (unless you’re from Kyle, Texas or Cleveland, Ohio) he was not an NFL-caliber quarterback.
Fast forward to game day.
Manziel was not great. He never got comfortable in the pocket, couldn’t ever get his feet set, and was constantly on the run. But here, the numbers speak for themselves: Manziel was 10 for 18 for 80 yards with two interceptions, three sacks, and a rating of 27.3 (if he had thrown the ball into the ground every play, he would have had a rating of 39.6).
The most memorable moments were when the Bengas mimicked Manziel’s money celebration after sacks and other defensive plays.
Eventually, Manziel’s off-the-field struggles caught up with him, and the Browns released him two years later. Manziel would end his career with only one other start against the Bengals, coming in a 31-10 loss for the Browns against in Cincinnati on Thursday Night Football on Nov. 5, 2015.
2. Browns knock themselves out of the playoffs - Dec. 23, 2007
It’s been a while since I’ve used the words “Browns,” and “playoffs,” without also using the phrase “when hell freezes over.”
There was a time when the playoffs were in the Browns’ grasp. That time was 2007.
On Dec. 23, the Browns were hoping to make the nice list and find a win against the Bengals under their Christmas tree. The Browns would clinch a playoff spot with a win, sending them to the playoffs for the second time since the Browns returned to Cleveland in 1999, and first time in five seasons.
Would the Browns return to the playoffs? Not if Derek Anderson had anything to say about it. And yes, Derek Anderson played for the Browns.
All the way back in September of that year, the Browns beat the Bengals in what is now the eighth-highest scoring game in NFL history. Anderson’s 328 yards and five touchdowns (which tied a franchise record) were too much for the Bengals, despite Carson Palmer’s 401 yards and six touchdowns (which broke a franchise record). The Browns ended up on top 51-45 in Cleveland Browns Stadium.
But a lot can happen in a four-month span in the NFL.
As it turns out, Anderson had one of his worst games that season in his second matchup against the Bengals. He passed for two touchdowns, but also threw four interceptions. The Browns failed to convert a fourth-and-1 opportunity in the first quarter, which led to a Bengals field goal. Then Anderson threw a pick that set up an easy five-yard pass from Palmer to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Anderson threw a second interception before halftime, which set up a one-yard Kenny Watson rushing touchdown. With the two-point conversion, the Bengals took a 19-0 lead going into the locker room, which ended up being enough to eliminate the Browns from playoff contention.
Anderson threw two touchdowns to make it interesting, but time ran out as Cleveland squandered a fourth-quarter fumble recovery. With a final score of 19-14, the Browns were sentenced to 10 more years (and counting) of a playoff drought.
The Browns did win their next game in Week 17, but it was too little too late. They ended the season with a winning 10-6 record, but they lost the tie-breaker to the Tennessee Titans and were left out of the playoffs.
With a win against the Bengals, the Browns could have passed the 10-6 Steelers for the AFC North crown. But as it stands, the Browns can add 2007 to the list with the rest of their disappointing seasons.
1. The AJ McCarron incident - Oct. 31, 2017
AJ McCarron won three National Championships in college, but fell to the fifth round of the NFL draft. The Bengals grabbed him in 2014 and used him as Andy Dalton’s backup for four years. He eventually started in 2015 when Dalton missed four games due to an injury. Going 2-1 in the regular season, McCarron started in the infamous 2015 Wild Card game against the Steelers that many Bengals fans choose not to remember.
Many thought of McCarron as the NFL’s best backup for most of his career, and analysts were constantly speculating whether or not he would be traded. Some fans were even hoping for him to start over Dalton. But Marvin Lewis is nothing if not stubborn, and he wanted to keep McCarron around as long as possible as Dalton’s number two.
Hue Jackson developed a liking toward McCarron as the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati for McCarron’s first two years in the league. When Jackson moved on to Cleveland, the land of bad quarterbacks, trade rumors circulated like crazy.
In 2017, right before the trade deadline, the Browns appeared to have worked out a deal to acquire McCarron. The Bengals agreed to the trade at about 3:30 and sent their paperwork into the NFL half an hour before the deadline. The Browns celebrated the trade, but neglected to send their paperwork.
So the Browns concluded their season on DeShone Kizer’s back, winning a predictable zero games. McCarron became a free agent and signed with the Bills, so the door to Cleveland is closed.
Nothing says “Cleveland Browns” like losing out on a potential franchise quarterback by forgetting to send in the paperwork. However, this is a unique Browns fail because it is the only one on this list that had a negative effect on the Bengals. McCarron’s contract expired a few months later, and he walked out the door as an unrestricted free agent. Instead of making a trade and getting something in return for McCarron, the Browns lost out on a quarterback and the Bengals lost out on compensation in exchange for him.
Being in the same division for so long has finally taken its toll on the Bengals. Maybe we should quarantine the Browns in the CFL.
What’s your favorite Browns fails versus the Bengals? Share it below.