Bengals’ offense proves less inept than Browns

Published 12:18 pm Monday, December 22, 2008

His feet and hands icing over, the guy in the No. 10 Brady Quinn jersey stayed warm by parading up and down the empty rows of seats.

Maneuvering through a deserted section, he carried a homemade sign that read: ‘‘Cowher In ’09.’’

For Cleveland’s last home game, there was little more for Browns fans to do but dream and look to the future.

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Peering back was too painful.

Cedric Benson rushed for a career-high 171 yards on 38 carries and Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall returned one of three interceptions of Ken Dorsey 50 yards for a touchdown as the Bengals got their first road win this season, 14-0 over the hapless Browns, who lost their fifth straight on Sunday and haven’t scored a touchdown in more than a month.

When the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard clock, less than 10,000 fans remained in frozen Cleveland Browns Stadium, the site of so much bad football in the past decade.

‘‘It’s the first time in seven years I’ve seen so few fans in the stands,’’ said Browns linebacker Andra Davis. ‘‘They deserve more. You can’t blame them.’’

The Bengals (3-11-1), who lost their first eight games, won their second straight and posted their first shutout since blanking the Browns 30-0 on Nov. 26, 2006.

Cincinnati didn’t have to do much more than hand the ball off to Benson, the former Chicago running back who found plenty of cutback lanes 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 Jamal 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.

‘‘My toughest season ever,’’ Lewis said. ‘‘It’s the worst season I’ve ever played in.’’

The Browns finished the home portion of their schedule by getting booed off the field by the few fans who braved temperatures in the teens and 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.

‘‘It was a tough way to end the home season,’’ coach Romeo Crennel said. ‘‘We didn’t play the way we needed to play to win this game.’’

With 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. Dorsey, playing only 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.’’