Browns try to return to relevancy today with win against Bengals

CLEVELAND – It’s an opportunity the Browns have seldom enjoyed for a period of time that seems too long to recall.

With a win today over the Cincinnati Bengals at First Energy Stadium, the Browns can list their nickname among the relevant teams in the NFL. It would even their record at 2-2 and be a rare two-game winning streak.

Don’t think that Bengals coach Marvin Lewis isn’t aware that the Browns are the proverbial snake hiding in the grass. The Bengals (2-1) are favored to win the AFC North Division title. A decisive win over the Browns would be a big step in support of the preseason hype.

To get the win, the Bengals must avoid the turnovers that almost proved costly in a 34-30 win over the Packers last Sunday. The Bengals lost three fumbles and quarterback Andy Dalton had one pass intercepted.

“The biggest thing is to keep hanging in there and keep playing,” Lewis said. “Sometimes things aren’t going to go right offensively and defensively and special teams-wise, but nobody can flinch, panic.”

The game will have added intrigue for Browns fans that will get their first chance to see quarterback Brian Hoyer play in person since perhaps his days at St. Ignatius High School. Hoyer was named the starter for a second straight week as Brandon Weeden continues to recover from a sprained right thumb suffered against the Ravens two weeks ago.

Hoyer overcame three interceptions to lead the Browns to a 31-27 road win over the Vikings last Sunday. His passer rating was just 68.5, but coach Rob Chudzinski can live with that when you factor in three touchdown passes and 321 passing yards.

One of Chudzinski’s jobs will be to keep Hoyer’s energy level in check.

“I know he’s excited about his opportunity,” Chudzinski said. “We’ve talked mostly just about focusing on what we need to do and all the other things, blocking those things out and not worrying about those things.”

Hoyer has many fond and not-so-fond memories of the former Cleveland Stadium. He used to attend home games on a regular basis with his dad, who had season tickets for the former version of the Browns. Hoyer was there when the Browns played their last home game before the franchise moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season.

Hoyer list Bernie Kosar as one of his favorite players and the one former Browns quarterback that he connects with the most.

“Probably because he’s been around,” Hoyer said. “I haven’t had any relationships with any other guys that have been here.”

Hoyer will go against a defense that looks good on paper but allowed 24 points in a loss to the Bears in addition to the 30 allowed last week. The Bengals’ other win was 20-10 over the Steelers.

“They’re pretty good,” Hoyer said. “They have all the players in all the right spots, and they have a great scheme. Obviously it’s a division game. This is huge for us, and it’s at home. You really have to study these guys, and when you get out there read and react because usually they have something they’re going to show you that they haven’t shown before.”

The Bengals have received solid play from quarterback Andy Dalton, who’s completed 67 percent of his passes for 797 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. Dalton is the key piece in what the Bengals hope will be a deep playoff run.

“Any team needs their quarterback to play lights out in order to win the Super Bowl most times,” Lewis said. “It comes to a point where he doesn’t turn the football over and he hits the guys. He makes the big plays and the plays he’s supposed to make and the team continues to rally around him. We’ve seen that from Andy.”

Today will be a chance either for the Bengals to proclaim their dominance in the division or for the Browns to announce their arrival.