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Bengals vs. Browns: Rivalry lost in time, mediocrity

But Battle of Ohio still has impact for teams, Mike Brown


The "Battle of Ohio" has lost some luster, but the 75th edition of the Bengals-Browns rivalry Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium is still a precious diamond that both teams would like to claim.

The game means little in the standings as both teams have been eliminated from playoff consideration. But Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said the rivalry still has significance.

"It's special for the players, cities and fans and so forth," Lewis said. "It's special to (Bengals president) Mike Brown."

Much of the fire that fueled the rivalry doesn't exist anymore.

Paul Brown, who founded the Bengals after coaching the Browns for 17 seasons, died in 1991. Art Modell, who as Cleveland's majority owner fired Brown in 1963, relinquished rights to the Browns' colors and history when he moved his team to Baltimore.

Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham last week recalled Brown and Modell passing each other outside Cleveland Stadium before a game and never looked at each other.

"It was more cold seeing that than what the weather was outside," Lapham said. "You always knew with him (Brown) that Cleveland week was a special week. You can't duplicate that scenario, and that was kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Brown found a kindred spirit in Forrest Gregg, who coached the Bengals from 1980-83. Gregg coached the Browns from 1975-77 before being fired by Modell.

During a 1981 victory in Cleveland during the Bengals' run to the Super Bowl, Gregg looked up at Modell's box and did a fist pump.

Former Browns lineman Doug Dieken remembers similar animosity when Cleveland beat the Bengals to clinch the AFC Central title in 1980.

"When we won the division, I remember trying to go shake his hand and he wasn't around," said Dieken, now a Browns radio analyst. "I know he came looking for me the next year."

But the Bengals and Browns have not been competitive at the same time late in the season for 21 years. With the Bengals 2-11 and the Browns 5-8 entering today's game, this marks the first time in 31 years in a non-strike season that the game has not sold out in Cincinnati.

The Bengals are on a 10-game losing streak, which ties a team record for longest in season. It began at Cleveland on Oct. 3, even though Carson Palmer threw for 371 yards and Terrell Owens had 222 receiving.

Many of the themes of the Bengals' skid were evident in the Browns 23-20 victory in that game:

• Turnovers: Palmer fumbled twice which led to a pair of Browns field goals.

• Penalties: An unnecessary roughness call late in the second quarter put the Browns in field goal range, an offensive pass interference penalty derailed a potential Bengals scoring drive in the fourth quarter and a defensive holding penalty during the fourth quarter gave the Browns an automatic first down as they ran out the clock.

• Big plays: The Browns had three plays longer than 20 yards that allowed them to score, sustain a scoring drive or run out the clock.

"We haven't won a football game since, but we've had our opportunities and made our errors," Lewis said. "The penalties in that game, as we know, were borderline but they had a big effect on the game."

The Bengals are in line to have the second pick in the NFL Draft. But a loss to Cleveland and a win by Carolina (1-12) over Arizona today would leave the Bengals and Panthers tied for the league's worst record. The Bengals probably would have a lower strength of schedule rating than the Panthers, which would give Cincinnati the tiebreaker if both teams finish with the same record.

Lewis is tied with Sam Wyche for the most wins by a Bengals coach against the Browns with 10. Two of the wilder games in the series happened during Lewis' tenure - a 58-48 shootout at Paul Brown Stadium in 2004 and a 51-45 loss in Cleveland in 2007. But it was against the Browns that Lewis got the first of his 57 victories as Bengals coach, a 21-14 win in Week 4 of 2003.

That win put the Bengals on a run during which they won eight of their next 12 games. They had a shot at a playoff berth going into the final game, only to see Cleveland play spoiler with a 22-14 win in Cincinnati. Four years later, the Bengals spoiled the Browns' playoff hopes with a 19-14 victory at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Browns have been befuddling at times this season. The team that beat the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots during a three-week span struggled mightily last week in a 13-6 loss to the Buffalo Bills. That has turned up the pressure on Browns coach Eric Mangini, even though he has a good working relationship with team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert.

Unlike past years, the Browns have young players who show promise.

Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy, who missed the past three games because of a high ankle sprain, returns as a starter today. this week and has been poised. The third-round draft pick has show poise in passing for 975 yards and three touchdowns while going 2-3 as a starter

Cornerback Joe Haden, the No. 7 pick in the draft, has interceptions in four of his past five games. Safety T.J. Ward, a second-round pick who had a questionable hit on Jordan Shipley against the Bengals on Oct. 3, leads the team in tackles.

A win by Cleveland Sunday would give the Browns a season sweep of the Bengals for the first time since 2002. Since the Browns' return to the NFL in 1999, the Bengals have gone 14-9, including four season sweeps, to take a two-game lead in the series.

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