Several teams in the NFL had the chance to secure their appearances in the playoffs by defeating their opponents this week. Jacksonville locked up the fifth seed by beating Oakland, and the Giants clinched a wild card berth when they outscored the Bills in Buffalo. Other clubs like Minnesota who lost to the Redskins last week, lost the opportunity to clinch the last NFC wild card and thus let the opportunity to control their own future slip through their fingers.
Cleveland was the second team to fall into that category, losing to the Bengals in a sloppy performance more characteristic of a team who had nothing to play for than one honing in on the opportunity for only their second post season appearance in the last thirteen years. Prior to this loss the Browns had won seven of their last nine games and had come back from a 2-3 start to put themselves in position to challenge the Steelers for first place in the division.
The loss to Cincinnati not only took the Browns out of contention for an AFC North title, but also took their playoff destiny out of their hands. The Titans beat the Jets later in the day and now Tennessee is the team that can forge their own future. Cleveland must depend on the Colts to stop Tennessee in the season finale, otherwise the Titans will squeeze past the Browns with a strength of victory advantage even if the two have identical season records.
Browns quarterback Derek Anderson bears most of the responsibility for the Browns loss although dropped passes, a missed field goal and a failed attempt at fourth and one in the red zone also contributed to the disaster. In windy conditions, Anderson threw a career high four interceptions, something he has done only once before, and coincidentally it was in Week 16 of the 2006 season against Tampa Bay. â€It’s a tough battle to fight when you’re throwing four picks,â€ Anderson said. â€œA couple of them were bad decisions, and a couple of them got hung up in the air.â€
And a couple of them went the other way for a total of 13 points for the Bengals. In a stunning collapse just before halftime Anderson threw interceptions on two consecutive plays and within 60 seconds Cincinnati had extended a 6-0 lead that was built on a couple of field goals into a 19-0 deficit that they took into the locker room. Because Anderson was picked off in his own end and because the Cincinnati cornerbacks had come up with good returns on each of them, the Bengals offense had needed to drive a total of only 25 yards for both touchdowns.
And even though the Bengals were awful after that, gaining a total of only 86 yards of offense in the second half the Browns failed to mount a comeback. Cleveland was able to score a couple of second half touchdowns, but two other possessions in which Cleveland had driven all the way into the Bengals red zone ended in the remaining two interceptions of Anderson passes. All told Cleveland outgained the Bengals by more than 100 yards and had 25 first downs to only 15 by Cincinnati. Anderson’s interceptions negated all that.
There were a few individual achievements for the Browns. WR Braylon Edwards collected his 15th touchdown catch of the year, a single season record for the Browns, and Edwards and fellow wide receiver Kellen Winslow became the first receiving tandem in Browns history to have 1000 yards each. But none of that will be any consolation if Tennessee beats the Colts and ends the Browns best season in more than a decade.