The last time the Cincinnati Bengals played at Cleveland Browns Stadium, they were just getting started on a nice run that earned them a spot in the AFC playoffs.
But on their return trip there on Sunday, they just couldn’t finish.
Despite leading, 14-7, at halftime, the Bengals could do little in the second half and lost, 34-24, to the Browns.
The loss, which was the Bengals’ second in a row and dropped them to 3-3, left them frustrated and scratching their heads.
“You look at the last two games, and we’re better than those teams,” said Bengals defensive back Chris Crocker, who played for the Browns from 2003-05. “We should have won those games, hands down. You can’t get those games back.
“The Browns were 0-5. They hadn’t won a game. They were hungry. We knew they’d give us a game.”
The Bengals had beaten the Browns, 34-27, back on Sept. 16 at Paul Brown Stadium, and had topped the Browns four straight times and seven of eight times dating back to 2009. They opened the 2011 season at Cleveland by winning, 27-17, rebounding from a 14-13 halftime deficit.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was in no mood for history lessons. When asked about last year’s team, he said, with as much kindness as he could muster given the situation, “That was last year. I don’t have those players anymore. I’m focused on this year.”
As such, what he saw Sunday, he said, was a team that “didn’t play well enough in all three phases at times. We had a good start, but we didn’t continue to play. For the second straight game, we still weren’t good enough on third down.”
The Bengals converted only five of 14 third-down opportunities (36 percent).
The Bengals went three plays-and-out on three of their first four possessions in the second half. On the other one, they got one first down.
“We had too many third-and-longs,” said Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton, who started last year’s game at Cleveland as a rookie. “They’re a lot harder to make than third-and-short. We have to be better on third down.”
The Bengals faced a lot of bad third-down – and even second-down – situations because of their inability to run the ball to start series. They gained just 76 yards in 20 carries. Last Sunday in a 41-27 win over the Browns, the New York Giants rushed for 243 yards.
“We liked the matchups we had, but it comes down to execution,” Dalton said.
Dalton hit on 31 of 46 passing attempts for 381 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went to wide receiver A.J. Green for four and 57 yards. But he also threw three inceptions, one of which was returned 19 yards for a TD by cornerback
“He (Brown) sat on that route,” Dalton said. “He was sitting on a lot of routes.”
Added Lewis, “It’s not about the teams that we’re playing. It’s all about us. We’ve got to make better football plays.”