For most of this season, the Cleveland Browns’ biggest problem has been an inability to “put it all together” for one game. Usually, when the defense plays well, the offense is atrocious, and vice versa. But in their rematch against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, the Browns gave their best all-around performance, beating their in-state rivals 34-24.
This game signified the return of cornerback Joe Haden from a four-game suspension, and his presence was certainly felt. Though he gave up a 57-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green late in the fourth quarter, he also had an interception and seven tackles. Green notched 135 yards receiving and two touchdowns on seven catches, but it wasn’t a performance that broke the Browns’ back.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden also continued his ascent to reliability, as he finished the day 17 of 29 for 231 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. This included a nifty 71-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Josh Gordon in the second quarter to tie the game at seven apiece.
Speaking of Josh Gordon, he had another solid outing on Sunday, catching three passes for 99 yards (maybe it’s admirable how long the Browns have been able to go without a 100-yard game from a receiver?). Wide receiver Josh Cooper, recently plucked from the practice squad and Weeden’s teammate at Oklahoma State, also had an impressive debut, catching two passes for 39 yards.
The most surprising thing of all, though? How about running back Montario Hardesty being the Browns’ leading rusher, with 56 yards on 15 carries? With a rib injury keeping Trent Richardson on the sidelines, Hardesty made the most of his opportunity, keeping the Browns’ offense moving and, get this, even scoring a touchdown. It will be interesting to see what kind of playing time he gets going forward.
More than anything, the Browns finally took some of the pressure off this season by getting a victory. It means even more against an AFC North opponent, as the Browns are typically the division doormat. No one is saying the road gets any easier, but the world always looks a little bit brighter after a win.
And with Joe Haden back – and defensive tackle Phil Taylor on the verge of returning – this Browns season should see at least a few more victories in its future.