CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns are approaching a one-year anniversary. There won’t be a party.
When they take the field Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns will have gone 364 days since their last win, a 24-10 victory over San Francisco that seems eons ago.
Johnny Manziel was the winning quarterback, his finest moment before being cut and hitting the club circuit.
Since Dec. 13, it’s been a startling freefall for Johnny Football and the Browns, who are 0-12 and moving dangerously close to joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams in NFL history to not win a game in a 16-game season.
“Nobody wants to go winless and we only can do something about it on Sundays because that’s when it counts,” said Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III, who will make his first start since Sept. 11. “I think everyone in this locker room is sincerely focused on this game and giving ourselves an opportunity to get that elusive win that we’ve been chasing.”
The Browns got a break from their pursuit of win No. 1 last week as a bye allowed them time to heal — mentally and physically.
The Bengals (4-7-1), meanwhile, played perhaps their best game this season, blowing out Philadelphia 32-14 to keep their fading playoff hopes from dying. Like Cleveland, Cincinnati hasn’t had the season it expected and now the Bengals want to avoid the indignity of being the first team to lose to the Browns.
It’s a dangerous matchup for the Bengals, who could again be without star wide receiver A.J. Green again because of a hamstring injury. A loss to Cleveland — Cincinnati won the Oct. 23 matchup 31-17 —and a win by Pittsburgh on Sunday or Baltimore on Monday night would eliminate the Bengals, and extend their streak of not winning a playoff game to 26 seasons.
But first things first. The Bengals are determined not to overlook the Browns. As much respect as they have for Cleveland coach Hue Jackson, the Bengals’ former offensive coordinator who appeared to be Marvin Lewis’ heir apparent, they don’t want to lose to him. They know they’re in for a battle.
“You’re going to get all the fight they’ve got left,” said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. “Knowing Hue Jackson and the motivator he is, I’m sure he’s got them prepared for these last four weeks, that they’re going to give everything they’ve got every single week. The reality is it really shouldn’t be our concern because I expect our football team to be fighting the exact same way.”
BACK AGAIN: Griffin’s got four games to prove to the Browns he should be their quarterback next season — and maybe beyond. Cleveland will undoubtedly draft a quarterback in the early rounds, but might not use one of its two 2017 first-round picks on a QB if Griffin shows enough.
“My job is to go out there and make them believe that,” he said.
BUNDLE UP: With snow and wind in the forecast, the weather could have a huge impact on Sunday’s game. However, Jackson said Griffin told him he can handle Mother Nature’s wrath.
“It is kind of funny,” he said. “He has a snowball. He has a straight ball. He has a long ball. He has a lot of different kind of balls, so we are going to find out if he can throw all those balls come this weekend.”
KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: The Bengals finally figured out how to get along without Green and running back Giovani Bernard, out with a torn ACL. They put their rookies on the spot and they delivered in the win over Philadelphia, with receivers Tyler Boyd and Cody Core playing bigger roles.
“When a guy like A.J. goes down, all of a sudden you’re searching for those guys that are going to step up for you, and you end up finding some hidden gems,” Whitworth said. “They get in the game and the lights are on and all of a sudden they show up. That was good to see.”
ANDY’S DANDY: Bengals QB Andy Dalton dissected the Eagles last week, completing 23 of 30 passes for 332 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“We got into a rhythm. Everybody was on the same page,” Dalton said. “Guys made plays with A.J. (Green) being out. The more that we are together, the better timing and feel we are going to have.”
Dalton’s has had the highest (146.8) and third-highest (139.8) passer ratings of his career against the Browns.
SURPRISES FROM HUE: The Browns used rookie QB Kevin Hogan to run the ball in the October game, and he finished with 104 yards and a TD. Cleveland ran for 180 yards and the Bengals expect Jackson to have a few more surprises for them in the rematch, given he had a bye week to prepare.
“The last time we played them they had a backup step in and make a lot of plays, so it could be three quarterbacks,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said.