Cincinnati — It happened before many of the Cincinnati Bengals fans were settled in their seats. It loomed for the rest of the game.
After the Browns’ offense opened the game with a three-and-out, Bengals Adam Jones returned a Reggie Hodges punt 81 yards for a touchdown. There was still more than 13 minutes to play in the first quarter.
“It happened so early,” Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “Things like that are going to happen in the course of the year. It happened today but it didn’t plague us at all.”
“There was a lot of football to be played after that, make no mistake,” Browns Pat Shurmur said.
Jackson and Shurmur may have down played the punt return, and, surprisingly, the Browns’ offense responded throughout the game. The fact remains — the Browns found themselves trailing by seven points four times in quarters two through four.
“Our mentality was just answer,” Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden said.
“They made a big play early and we had to answer. For the most part we did. We were able to hang in there.”
Therein lies the sliver lining. In terms of style, this loss was a bit easier to swallow thanks to two stat lines:
QB Brandon Weeden: 26-for-37 passing for 322 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
RB Trent Richardson: 19 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown and four catches for 36 yards and a touchdown.
“I believe in our process,” Shurmur said. “I’ve seen really good quarterbacks have bad games in all stages of their career. I’ve seen guys bounce back. I watched the way (Weeden) prepared. I think he learned a lot last week on how to get ready to play a game. You have to go through it.”
The Browns’ youth has been well documented and for all the good they did Sunday, there was plenty of bad. The Browns committed 10 penalties for 103 yards. Holding penalties killed offensive drives. Defensive offsides enabled Bengals to convert four first downs by penalty. Missed tackles plagued the Browns defense including on what proved to be the game-clinching 50-yard touchdown reception by Andrew Hawkins with 4:23 left in the game.
The Browns secondary, missing suspended cornerback Joe Haden, was torched by the Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton, who finished 24-for-31 passing for 318 yards and three touchdowns. And there was the aforementioned special teams blunder.
As for the positives, the improvement of the team’s rookie running back and quarterback from week one has them in a better frame of mind.
“The past week I was extremely upset with the way I played,” Weeden said. “I let the defense down. I knew I would put it behind me. Last week was not the way I wanted things to go, but a true competitor, a guy who is mentally tough, would bounce back and correct mistakes he made last week. Pretty much I think I did that.”
Of course new mistakes cropped up, but that is the case with a young football team. There were some positive signs, although at the end of the day the record speaks for itself. The Browns are starting 0-2 for fourth time since 1999 (1999, ‘03, ‘06, ‘09).
“I wouldn’t call my performance complete because we didn’t win,” Richardson said. “I had more effort out there and I was on top of my game.
“I had a big stat day but it doesn’t mean anything if you’re not winning. We’ve got to pull out the ‘W.’