If the 78th renewal of the Battle of Ohio were to have a corporate sponsor, Listerine would be a good choice.
Both the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns enter today’s 1 p.m. game at Paul Brown Stadium looking to rinse the sour taste from their mouths after disappointing, yet different, losses in their season openers.
The Bengals, flush with confidence after a 2011 wildcard berth and a widely lauded draft, got blown out on national television in Baltimore.
The Browns, on the other hand, became just the third team since 1970 to start a rookie at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, and they nearly parlayed that trifecta into an upset of Philadelphia before surrendering the lead in the final minute.
“Regardless of how it happens, it’s all about the Ls and Ws,” Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur said. “You just have to bounce back and keep playing and then you add them up at the end.”
Sometime after 4 p.m. today, one team will be feeling a whole lot better about the season while the other will be staring at another long week of questions, doubts and the gloomy fact that in the last 22 years, only 12 percent of NFL playoffs teams got to the postseason after an 0-2 start.
“It’s obviously a big week for us,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “Cleveland’s coming in here looking for the same thing we are.
“We know we’ve got a lot of improvement to make,” Lewis continued. “And certainly I feel like we really do have both the ability and the personality to make the correction and move forward and make positive plays throughout the next 15 games.”
The improvement Lewis is looking for is across the board. As he mentioned earlier in the week, he wasn’t handing out ‘atta-boys’ to anyone after Monday’s performance, which equaled the worst loss in a season opener in franchise history.
For the Browns, there are plenty of positives on which to build. But none of them involve the passing game, or really, the offense in general.
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden is coming off a horrid debut performance in which he threw four interceptions and completed only 12-of-35 passes for a meager 118 yards. If he isn’t markedly better today, the Browns will be staring at 0-2 with screams of “Colt McCoy” echoing in their ears.
“You always have a low tolerance for mistakes,” Shurmur said. “Everybody we put out there, it’s very important that they do their job well. I think in the back of your mind you understand that there are some things that they’re going to see for the first time and you want them to respond well. But there’s really zero tolerance for mistakes, like every position.”
Rookie running back Trent Richardson also struggled for the Browns, gaining just 39 yards on 19 carries, but a knee injury forced him to see limited action in practice leading up to the game. He has been a full participant this week, and he should have added incentive after Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga said Richardson “didn’t do nothing spectacular” in the season opener.
The same, of course, could be said about the Bengals defense. And, at times, the offense. No one is doubting that. Not dwelling on it will be the key today.
“It’s a big week for us,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “We’ve got to bounce back. We can’t let the way we played last week affect us going into this week. I know Marvin is going to get us ready, so now it’s just performing this week like we can.”
Both teams will be without one of their Week 1 defensive starters today.
Bengals linebacker Thomas Howard suffered a torn ACL in practice Thursday and was placed on season-ending injured reserve Friday, while Browns cornerback Joe Haden will begin serving a four-game suspension as a result of positive test for the drug Adderall.
Even though Howard led the Bengals in tackles last year, Haden’s absence is the bigger blow. He’s one of the top cornerbacks in the league, and he’s not available to cover one of the top receivers in the league in A.J. Green.
“Joe’s probably one of the premiere corners, so I know they’re going to miss him,” said Green, who had four catches for 151 yards in the two games against Cleveland last year. “But this is the NFL. I just have to go out and play. I don’t care who’s out there.”
Eleven-year veteran Sheldon Brown is expected to start in place of Haden.
“We’re gonna miss Joe for a month, and the next guys in there will do a good job,” Shurmur . “I’m very confident that the players we have on this team will go in and challenge and play extremely well.”
Rookie roll call
Beginning with today’s game against Cleveland and Brandon Weeden, the Bengals are expected to face rookie quarterbacks in four of their next five games.
Cincinnati will travel to Washington next Sunday, where the Bengals will see No. 2 overall draft pick Robert Griffin III.
Following a trip to Jacksonville in Week 4, the Bengals will return home to face the Miami Dolphins and first-round pick Ryan Tannehill. And Week 6 will mark the rematch with Weeden and the Browns in Cleveland.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who was a rookie starter last year, said he will be monitoring the progress of this year’s crop of first-year starters.
“I try to follow most of the guys, whether it’s a rookie or the older guys,” he said. “But I do follow the rookies. I know what they’re going through right now. I’ll definitely follow them.”