- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
With the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers playing tonight on "Monday Night Football," we're going to focus solely on Sunday's battle between the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals in this week's seven-step drop.
Here are some observations from Cleveland's 20-12 win over Cincinnati:
It is often said that victories solve a lot of problems in the NFL, and the statement is spot on this week for the Cleveland Browns. The team traveled to Cincinnati with quarterback issues with Derek Anderson and a head coach that was getting grilled all week. The Browns took an ugly win, but that should calm the waters in Cleveland (1-3) heading into the bye week. Now the Browns have two weeks to work out the kinks, get healthy and prepare for a home game against the New York Giants on Oct. 13.
"We are going to go to work...extremely hard to make this team better, and I think this team is capable of being better if we concentrate on the right things," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said after the game.
Crennel's leash for Anderson proved to be a long one. Anderson struggled through the entire first half and parts of the third quarter before turning it on late and rallying the Browns. It appears Crennel was managing the situation based on the score and not performance. The Browns were in the game the entire time and eventually things began to click for Anderson, who finished with 138 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
"It said that he had faith in me to just keep doing it," Anderson said. "I'm never going to quit on him. I'll always put in the work and keep fighting regardless of the situation."
Browns running back Jamal Lewis felt he should've received more carries in the first three games, and he was right. Lewis grinded out 79 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries against Cincinnati. Dating to when Lewis signed with Cleveland last season, the Browns are now 5-0 when Lewis gets 25 carries or more. Lewis is battling hamstring and ankle injuries that are taking away some of his explosiveness. But he is still strong enough to get his pads down against defenders and move the chains.
Carson Palmer's game-time decision to not play obviously had an impact on Cincinnati's offense, but it also impacted backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. Palmer practiced most of the week and even told head coach Marvin Lewis that he planned to play. So when Fitzpatrick got the call Sunday, he was clearly not well-prepared. The offense looked out of synch and Fitzpatrick didn't help with three interceptions and a fumble.
"As a backup you have to be ready to go at a moment's notice," Fitzpatrick told reporters after the game. "It's one of those things. [Carson] practiced on Wednesday and Thursday. Did I think I was going to be starting this game? No. [But] it certainly doesn't change the way that I prepare."
Although it's difficult to spot in the midst of an 0-4 start, we are noticing a gradual improvement in the Bengals' defense. The unit pulled out a gutsy performance in holding Cleveland to 261 total yards and forcing two turnovers. The offense without Palmer committed five turnovers, which often gave Cleveland a short field. But the Bengals' defense hung in and gave the team a chance to win.
Now that Bengals tailback Chris Perry is a full-time starter, teams are starting to sniff out weaknesses in his game. Perry has trouble consistently holding onto the football. Teams are aware of it and have forced four fumbles against Perry in as many games this season. He's only lost two, but his second lost fumble was crucial in the fourth quarter against Cleveland.
Substitution problems and miscommunications continue to haunt the Bengals. Cincinnati blew at least two early timeouts in the second half that were unnecessary and drew a large chorus of boos from the home crowd. The lost timeouts hurt the Bengals in the fourth quarter when they ran out of time to attempt a late comeback.
"It's not what we want to do, but it was an unfortunate situation where we had a guy injured," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis explained. "When a guy goes down, something has to happen so that we can get the right people on the field, and obviously you don't want to spend an extra timeout in that situation."