Even for two franchises with histories that fall well short of glorious, Sunday’s Battle of Ohio between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns could be an all-timer on the futility scale.
Both teams are 0-3 after the Bengals fell at Green Bay 27-24 in overtime Sunday while the Browns lost 31-28 at Indianapolis . That means the 88th renewal of the intrastate rivalry will mark just the third time both teams have been winless when meeting in Week 4 or later.
“I was urgent last week, it’s more urgent this week,” Bengals safety George Iloka said. “Starting off 0-3 is not somewhere we wanted to be. We could’ve easily been 2-1. But easily and should haves don’t count for nothing. The sense of urgency is real high right now. We’ve got to hone in on this one. We can’t look at big picture. We’ve just go to look at now.”
The most recent instance was in 2008, when both teams were 0-3. The Browns came to Paul Brown Stadium and handed the Bengals a 20-12 loss.
The other time it happened was in 1999, when both teams were 0-4. That contest saw the Bengals pull off a road win with an 18-17 decision. That game holds an infamous spot in B.O.O. lore as the Akili Smith throat slash game, in which the Bengals quarterback made the gesture after throwing a game-winning touchdown pass to Carl Pickens with five seconds remaining.
A few weeks later, the NFL banned the throat slash as “an unacceptable act of violence.”
So consider Sunday’s game at FirstEnergy Stadium the rubber match of wretchedness.
Using history as a barometer, it could be one of the few highlights the winning team will experience the rest of the season.
In 2008, the Browns went on to finish 4-12 while the Bengals went 4-11-1.
And in 1999, the Bengals wasted the spark of a last-second win by losing their next game six games to fall to 1-10 before finishing 4-12. Half of those four victories came against the Browns, who dropped their first seven on the way to a 2-14 campaign.
While that 1999 season pre-dated the Marvin Lewis era in Cincinnati, this weekend’s matchup has the feel of the coach’s career coming full circle.
Lewis’ first season as head coach began 0-3 and was followed by a trip to Cleveland, a battle with Buffalo and a bye.
The new three weekends for the Bengals: at Cleveland, vs. Buffalo and a bye.
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Lewis’ 2003 team turned things around and finished 8-8 for the franchise’s first non-losing season in seven years and just the second in 13 seasons.
But it’s doubtful an 8-8 finish in 2017 will be as celebrated.
Cincinnati Bengals (0-3) vs. Cleveland Browns (0-3)
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland
TV: Ch. WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12
Radio: Bengals — 1530-AM, 102.7-FM, 104.7-FM: Browns — 1290-AM, News 95.7-FM WHIO