Posted: 6:05 a.m.
For the fourth time this season Sunday, the Bengals defense played well enough to win behind safety Chinedum Ndukwe's six tackles, one interception, and a sack.
But also for the fourth time this season they wilted late by giving up 17 fourth-quarter points. Still, 10 of those points came off turnovers.
"It's becoming a recurring thing that isn't good, right, about playing well until late?" asked cornerback Leon Hall.
And, yes, like on offense, there were some troublesome trends that continued. Ndukwe's sack off a blitz was the Bengals only one as ends Antwan Odom and Robert Geathers didn't get to Browns quarterback Derek Anderson even though Cleveland had allowed eight sacks in the previous three games. In fact, Odom had the killing penalty of the day, an offsides call on third-and-three that wiped out cornerback David Jones' interception and gave the Browns a first down in their go-ahead touchdown drive late in the third quarter.
Still, the defense was good enough to win. Yes, this Cleveland team was dead last in offense and second to last in time of possession as the Browns kept the ball nine more minutes above their average with 34:02.
But after the Browns pummeled the Bengals defense in the opening drive, all on the ground, for a 60-yard field-goal drive, the Bengals gave up just 201 yards the rest of the way after defensive tackle John Thornton tripped up running back Jamal Lewis for a two-yard loss on third-and-one from the Cincinnati 5.
Another trend: In the past, it's been a 15-yard penalty for facemask or unnecessary roughness, but cornerback David Jones got one on the opening drive for a horse-collar tackle of Lewis at the end of his 18-yard run.
But Lewis finished with just 79 yards on 25 carries at 3.2 yards per pop after getting 32 yards on his first three carries.
"We adjusted," said Marvin White, the other safety who had seven tackles. "They came out doing a lot of motions and had us fooled with their formations. But we tightened it up after that."
Still, the Bengals defense played good enough to win as Ndukwe came up with the defense's first interception of the season on the first series of the second half at the Bengals 12, snapping the longest drought without one under Marvin Lewis at three games.
"Did you see the stats? Every time, the defense plays great," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "The defense gave us the ball. Chinedum Ndukwe played a great game on defense. Marvin made all kinds of tackles. They gave us great field position and we couldn't score."
Secondary coach Kevin Coyle was particularly impressed with Ndukwe's effort in the film room during the week. In overtime against the Giants the week before, Ndukwe admitted, he had anticipated an out pattern when Amani Toomer ran down the sideline for what turned out to be the winning play in overtime.
"It happens," Ndukwe said.
But it didn't happen against the Browns.
"They have some core concepts," Ndukwe said. "They love to go to the double post and a back side seven route to (tight end Kellen) Winslow. Call it a flag route. That's how I got the interception. The coaches put me in position and I came through."
That was Ndukwe's third interception of Anderson in the last two games against the Browns.
"He always plays hard," Coyle said. "Today he had a better combination of playing hard and smart."
Ndukwe and his mates didn't concern themselves with the starting quarterback situation. "We've still got a job to do," he said, and rookie linebacker Keith Rivers said, "I had somebody call me and ask if (Carson Palmer) was going to play and I had no idea."
Cleveland got its first touchdown of the day and wide receiver Braylon Edwards his first touchdown of the season on a four-yard timing route from Anderson in the back of the end zone to give Cleveland a 10-6 lead.
Hall, another solid day with three passes defensed, got isolated on two straight plays against the 6-4, 220-pound Edwards. He prevented the first one in the opposite corner, but Edwards shielded him on the second and made a nice one-handed grab as the Bengals blitzed.
"Good coverage, good execution on their part," Coyle said.
"I had a feeling they were coming with that play again," Hall said. "They had four chances to do it."
Hall said he wasn't aware that Edwards and Anderson were going at it on the side.
"We have to stay with it," Ndukwe said. "We have to keep playing and good things will happen."