‘Battle of Ohio’ not much of a fight

Published 3:45 am Friday, December 19, 2008

Ohio’s two NFL teams are in a crumbling state of disrepair.

They’re in such bad shape, in fact, some of their fans wish they’d relocate.

With a combined 6-21-1 record, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals have rarely been this bad or this beaten up at the same time. This was supposed to be a season where both teams challenged for playoff spots. But an unrelenting avalanche of major injuries, dropped passes and missed tackles, with some controversy tossed in, has buried them.

Email newsletter signup

Now, they’re fighting to stay out of the AFC North basement — a place where they’ve each lived before.

On Sunday, the plain orange helmets and the striped ones will meet for the 71st time, with their rivalry tied 35-35. Someone will take the lead in the so-called ‘‘Battle of Ohio.’’


The way things have gone for the Browns (4-10) and Bengals (2-11-1), anything, including a scoreless tie between two of the league’s most inept offenses, is possible.

‘‘We’re just going to go out there and have fun,’’ said Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Ocho Cinco. ‘‘Regardless of our records, regardless of what’s gone on the entire season, the Battle of Ohio is one that both Cincinnati and Cleveland get up for and it’s always a good one, regardless of what’s going on throughout the season.’’

Recapping what has happened on the banks of the Ohio River and shores of Lake Erie since September would take hours. The abridged version is that little has gone right in either city.

‘‘It’s been a tough year for us and a tough year for them,’’ said Browns defensive tackle Shaun Smith, who spent two-plus seasons in Cincinnati before signing with Cleveland before last season. ‘‘We both had high expectations. It’s too bad.’’

At one point, the Bengals, who have had to place 23 players on the reserve injured list, seemed to be on their way to a winless season before winning at Jacksonville on Nov. 2. They followed that with an unexpected tie against Philadelphia, but lost their next three in a row by a combined 96-16.

In danger of finishing with the worst record in the club’s 41-year history, the Bengals beat Washington 20-13 last week and will now try to win consecutive games for the first time since the final two games of 2007.

Never afraid to speak his mind, Ocho Cinco wasn’t quite ready to proclaim that his team was rolling.

‘‘I wouldn’t call it momentum,’’ he said. ‘‘I mean, we haven’t built much momentum at all this year. … We’re coming off a win, but I wouldn’t call it a momentum builder. It’s just that we did enough things right. We played well. We didn’t turn the ball over. And just doing what we did last week with the offense making plays when they’re called will help us with these last two.’’

As bad as the season has gone for the Bengals, they will finish ahead of the Browns in the standings by winning their last two games, and if Cleveland drops its final home game and then loses next week at Pittsburgh.

The Browns’ immediate goal is to score an offensive touchdown. Cleveland has gone four games — 262 offensive plays — without a trip into the end zone, a remarkable drought for a unit that scored 402 points last season, but is down to playing third-string quarterback Ken Dorsey because of injuries. Cincinnati has been using backup Ryan Fitzpatrick much of the season with Carson Palmer sidelined by an elbow injury.

The weather forecast for Sunday includes snow, but it could be much colder than normal and not just because it’s December.

Upset with the club’s collapse, Cleveland fans may show their displeasure by staying away in record numbers. The Browns went 7-1 at home last season, but are just 1-6 and have lost four straight in their 73,000-seat stadium, which may be only half filled this week.

Tight end Kellen Winslow, who will miss his third straight game with an ankle injury, said Cleveland fans have every right to be angry.

‘‘What are we, 4-10?’’ he asked. ‘‘The season’s done. But they still come to the games, they still support us. As a team we want to support them and make them happy, make the city happy, but we just didn’t do that this year. We didn’t get it done.’’

The Browns, who have lost at least 10 games five times in the past six seasons, are headed for another offseason of change. Coach Romeo Crennel is expected to be fired soon after the finale, and general manager Phil Savage’s future is up in the air, pending a review by owner Randy Lerner

The Bengals will have less turnover because coach Marvin Lewis is under contract for two more years, and team president Mike Brown calls all the shots.

While it hasn’t gone as planned, Cincinnati’s abysmal season can be traced to early-season injuries to Palmer and others.

Rest assured, the Bengals will see more alterations this winter than just a wide receiver changing his legal name from Johnson to his jersey number. In Spanish.

‘‘There are reasons for some of the things we’ve gone through this year,’’ Ocho Cinco said. ‘‘Not to make those excuses. They’re visual to the naked eye. I’m sure some of those things will be cleaned up. They’ll be fixed. We have needs in areas I’m sure which will be addressed during the offseason.

‘‘I don’t know what those are. Every team has needs. Other than that, I think we’re going to come back and be the Bengals of old, what people are used to seeing.’’