|Browns QB Brandon Weeden revels in the fan support as Cleveland finally snapped a record-tying 11-game losing streak, dating back to last season. (US Presswire)|
It's a chicken-and-egg thing. Young teams cannot win until they learn how to finish off opponents. But they don't have the confidence to finish off opponents until they've won.
The Cleveland Browns blew one opportunity after another to open the season. They refused to let another one slip away Sunday against the visiting Bengals. The result was a 34-24 victory, the first against an AFC North team since coach Pat Shurmur took over in 2011.
The win also ended an 11-game losing streak, which was tied for the longest in franchise history.
It was a team effort. All units contributed greatly to a desperately needed triumph two days before Jimmy Haslam takes over for Randy Lerner as the owner.
Would the Browns offense have scored 27 points in a game last year that featured seven consecutive three-and-out possessions in the second half? No chance. The fact that they did on Sunday proves their newfound explosiveness behind QB Brandon Weeden and budding WR Josh Gordon, who caught his third touchdown pass in the last two games. Those scoring strikes averaged 51 yards. The Browns, who are averaging 23.6 points in their last five games, also overcame the loss of featured back Trent Richardson to a rib injury. The hero there was heretofore forgotten RB Montario Hardesty, who hit the holes with a purpose and scored his first pro touchdown after watching the first five games from the sideline. Add a solid performance from the offensive line in both run and pass blocking and you have a great grade. Only a terrible third quarter killed a shot at an A. Previous game's grade: B
The Browns have played opportunistic defense most of the year and peaked in that area on Sunday with four turnovers. The most critical were the pick-six by veteran CB Sheldon Brown that played brilliant throughout and gave them a 34-17 lead in the fourth quarter and the strip-sack by DE Emmanuel Stephens that clinched the victory. Among the heroes was CB Joe Haden, who showed how important he is to the defense upon his return from a four-game drug suspension. Haden registered seven tackles and his second INT in two games played (he had none last season). He allowed premier WR A.J. Green to get behind him for a 57-yard touchdown, but blanketed Green most of the game. The Browns also bounced back from a terrible performance against the run last week to allow a season-low 75 yards on the ground. Previous game's grade: F
Special teams: A-minus
PR/KR Josh Cribbs showed he's still a stud with a 60-yard punt return and 40-yard kickoff return. Weeden called the former the biggest play of the game for the Browns because it helped an offense struggling at the time to gain good field position. PK Phil Dawson was perfect as usual while the coverage units prevented the Bengals from getting jump-started. The only negative continued to be P Reggie Hodges, who remains inconsistent at best. He is shanking too many and booting the ball with little hang time. Previous game's grade: B
Coach Pat Shurmur has been getting trashed all year, so give credit where it's due. He and the coordinators stuck to their guns, refusing to play it conservative. Shurmur was criticized for removing Richardson and passing on a critical 3rd-and-1 play against the Giants. It resulted in disaster – an interception by Weeden that swung the momentum around and ultimately might have cost the Browns a victory. But he let Weeden throw on 3rd and 1 on Sunday and the result was arguably Weeden's finest pass of the season. He fired it between two Cincinnati defenders into the hands of TE Jordan Cameron for a big gain that set up a touchdown. Shurmur and offensive coordinator Brad Childress drew up a game plan with a more even mix of run and pass that had the Bengals off-balance. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron must also be credited for designing coverages that -- aside from one TD pass to TE Jermaine Gresham – prevented any receiver not named Green from hurting the Browns. Previous game's grade: D-
Stay dialed in on the Cleveland Browns on Twitter at @CBSBrowns throughout the season with on-site updates from CBSSports.com RapidReports correspondent Marty Gitlin.