CLEVELAND (AP)—Frozen trash danced in the icy wind at one end of the near-empty stadium as the home finale’s last seconds disappeared from the clock.
There was nothing to celebrate, nothing to look forward to. Nothing but silence.
On a bone-chilling Sunday, a season of high hopes hit new depths for the Cleveland Browns.
“Worst season I’ve ever played in,” running back Jamal Lewis said.
Cedric Benson rushed for a career-high 171 yards on 38 carries and cornerback Leon Hall returned one of his three interceptions 50 yards for a touchdown as the Cincinnati Bengals got their first road win this season, 14-0 over the hapless Browns.
After losing their first eight games, the Bengals (3-11-1) have won two straight for the first time since closing 2007 with back-to-back victories. It was their first road win since beating Miami in the ’07 finale, and the shutout was Cincinnati’s first since blanking the Browns 30-0 on Nov. 26, 2006.
Cleveland, meanwhile, hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown in five games.
The Bengals didn’t have to do much more than hand the ball off to Benson, the former Chicago running back who found plenty of room against the Browns’ overpursuing defense. Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed only five passes, but one was a 20-yard TD to Chris Henry in the second quarter.
“It feels awesome,” said Benson, who was released by the Bears in June following two offseason arrests involving alcohol. “That was some smash-mouth football right there. When you can run the ball like that, it’s a momentum builder. It says a lot for your guys. It’s a big statement. It also gets the defense wondering what’s going on. It wears them down.”
The Browns (4-11) have been worn out for weeks.
Ravaged by injuries since training camp, Cleveland has lost five straight and seven of eight. The offense hasn’t visited the end zone since running back Jerome Harrison’s 73-yard TD run on Nov. 17 at Buffalo—nearly 21 quarters ago. Cleveland didn’t score a touchdown in its final three home games, a mind-boggling drought.
The lone bright spot for the Browns was Lewis, who became the 24th player in NFL history to rush for 10,000 career yards. Lewis came in needing 63 and went over the milestone on an 8-yard burst in the third quarter. He finished with 76 yards on 16 carries, but didn’t have any desire to celebrate.
“It’s a great accomplishment and I’m happy to be here, but at the same time it would have felt even better if we would have had a winning season,” Lewis said. “The record is the least of my concerns. It’s been a disappointing season.”
The Browns finished the home portion of their schedule by getting booed off the field by the few hearty fans who braved subzero wind chills. Cleveland went 1-7 at home, one season after going a franchise-best 7-1 on the banks of Lake Erie. Amazingly, the one win came on Monday night against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
At halftime, one disgruntled fan wearing a No. 10 Brady Quinn jersey paraded around a section of club-level seats in front of the press box holding a homemade sign that said: “Cowher In ’09.”
With coach Romeo Crennel expected to be fired some time following next week’s game in Pittsburgh, the Browns may try to lure former Steelers coach Bill Cowher out of broadcasting and back onto the sideline. Crennel fell to 24-39 in four seasons and he’ll take an 0-7 mark against the Steelers into next Sunday’s game.
To make matters worse, the Browns lost another quarterback. Ken Dorsey, who is only playing because of season-ending injuries to Derek Anderson and Quinn, suffered a mild concussion and injured ribs in the fourth quarter. Dorsey was replaced by recently signed QB Bruce Gradkowski, who may have to start the season finale.
On Cleveland’s first possession, Dorsey locked in on wide receiver Braylon Edwards and his pass route was alertly jumped by Hall, who picked it off near Cincinnati’s sideline and went untouched to make it 7-0.
“I read the quarterback’s eyes,” said Hall, who came into the game without an interception this season. “I read the receiver and I jumped the route. It felt good to take it all the way.”
Cincinnati leads the “Battle of Ohio” 36-35. … Bengals WR Chad Ocho Cinco didn’t play because of a hamstring injury. … Bengals OT Stacy Andrews was helped to the locker room with an injured right knee in the fourth quarter. … Browns P Dave Zastudil averaged 49.4 yards on five kicks despite playing with an injured right knee. … Hall’s three picks tied a franchise record.