"Half the time I didn't even know who we had out there," said linebacker Clay Matthews. "I felt, the hell with it: When they run that no-huddle stuff, just leave the same people on the field. The Bengals are hard enough to deal with when you know what you're doing."
The game turned on Cleveland's second big special-teams play of the day. Trailing 13-10 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Cincinnati was punting from its own 23. Fontenot and Frank Minnifield, the Browns' 5'9", 185-pound cornerback, abandoned their normal wide-rush positions and lined up over the middle, where the guys with the 60's and 70's on their jerseys live. Fontenot drew his man with him, opening up a small gap, and Minnifield slipped through it and blocked the punt. Fontenot recovered the ball on the one and scored. "Those big guys usually can take one step and that's it," Minnifield said. "They're not used to chasing me."
Cleveland now led by 10 and could allow field goals but not TDs. The Bengals, who had run for 108 yards in the first half, abandoned the rush and tried to catch up with Esiason passes. Late in the third quarter they reached the Browns' 14, where they faced a third-and-10. It was here that Cleveland's leave-'em-on-the-field strategy paid off.
The Bengals got tricky and ran a trap play against what they thought would be nickel defenders. But the Browns' big guys were on the field, and Matthews and inside linebacker Eddie Johnson stuffed the play after a yard gain. Result: a field goal, which Cleveland matched on its next series. "I don't think Boomer really was aware of who was on the field," said Johnson. "Bernie would have picked that up and changed the play."
Cincinnati launched one more serious drive. It reached the Cleveland four, where on third-and-goal it tried a power run from the I formation. The Browns gang-tackled Stanley Wilson for no gain, and the Bengals' chippie field goal on the next play closed out the scoring.
Cleveland had one more good special-teams play left—a 32-yard kickoff return by Glen Young with 5:15 left, after which the Browns were able to kill the clock. Teams often blow leads by trying to sit on the ball at the end, but Schottenheimer, who calls the offensive plays, and Kosar, who changes about 40% of them, don't operate that way. "I've seen too many games lost by doing that," Schottenheimer says. So Kosar threw on second-and-seven, and again on third-and-two. Both passes were on target, and when the Bengals took over with seven seconds to go, they were on their own 17 and the hunt was over.
Kosar had his ups and downs, but in the second half he did what he does best—work the game in a precise way and move the yardsticks. Cleveland had only three possessions after the intermission—two long drives for field goals and the one that secured the win at the end. The Browns never punted in the second half.
The defense gave what Schottenheimer termed "the finest performance we've ever had in my nine years here." It allowed long drives and field goals but no TDs by Cincinnati's high-powered offense. It held the Bengals to 281 yards, their lowest output of the year. Finally, the Browns' special teams were terrific.
At 7-2, Cincinnati is a game ahead of the Browns and Houston Oilers in the AFC Central. But Kosar's back, and things are getting interesting.