CINCINNATI - Three quarters, three points. Cleveland’s offense was having another meltdown day, and Derek Anderson was running out of chances to keep his job.
The quarterback’s one good moment was enough to save his job — and the Browns’ season, too.
With Brady Quinn on the sideline ready to take over at any time Sunday, the embattled Anderson threw a touchdown pass and rallied the Browns to a 20-12 victory over a winless Cincinnati Bengals team missing its starting quarterback.
“I decided to give him another chance,” said coach Romeo Crennel, who considered replacing Anderson. “He went ahead and took advantage of it and finished on a good note.”
Anderson threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards that put the Browns (1-3) ahead to stay in the fourth quarter, his best play on an afternoon that had few of them. Even that moment came with an asterisk: A Bengals penalty wiped out a potential interception on the drive.
Anderson wore a green T-shirt, tan cargo shorts, brown flip-flops and a big grin to his postgame news conference. He cut off the first mention of losing his job.
“Nope, don’t go there,” said Anderson, who went 15-of-24 for 138 yards with an interception. “I stayed in the game. You’re not going to score every single down.”
He had help from the down-and-out Bengals.
Carson Palmer rested a sore passing elbow that forced him to miss a game for the first time since 2004, a huge setback for a struggling offense. Cincinnati couldn’t do much behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, who hadn’t completed a pass in a regular-season game in three years.
Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions and finished the game as Cincinnati’s leading rusher with 41 yards on four scrambles, underscoring the Bengals’ futility. They’re 0-4 for the first time since 2002, when they went a franchise-worst 2-12 that got coach Dick LeBeau fired.
“We desperately needed this one,” Fitzpatrick said. “This was a devastating loss for us in terms of dropping to 0-4 and going to Dallas next week.”
It was ugly all-around.
The Bengals wasted two timeouts in the second half because their confused defense had too many men on the field. Edwards undercut a drive in the fourth quarter with a late hit, then exchanged words on the sideline with Anderson before storming away.
The tipping point came after Anderson threw an interception and the Browns went three-and-out to start the second half, trailing 6-3. Anderson, who got a three-year, $24 million deal in the offseason, was only 6-of-12 for 48 yards with an interception at that point — numbers bad enough to get him benched.
His touchdown pass to Edwards on the next drive calmed things down.
“I told him I knew we were going to score,” Edwards said. “We’ve got to get back to that attitude, and we had that attitude where we played physical all game. We established our presence on the field, and it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
With Palmer out of the picture, the Bengals were, too.
Palmer was knocked around during an overtime loss to the Giants last Sunday, getting his nose bloodied. He also hurt his elbow when he was hit while throwing, an injury the team didn’t reveal until late in the week.
“It happens a lot,” said Palmer, who also has suffered a broken nose and a sprained ankle this year. “Sometimes it takes a little while to come back. Hopefully it won’t take too long.”
Coach Marvin Lewis told Palmer on Saturday night that he was going to sit out.
“He’s got an elbow that’s inflamed,” Lewis said. “It’s better. It was precautionary to not let him play — against his wishes — and have him ready for next week and beyond.”
A three-play sequence late in the first half encapsulated the current state of pro football in Ohio.
Crennel decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Cincinnati 45-yard line. Anderson faked a handoff, rolled right and spotted Steve Heiden breaking open. Anderson dumped his throw low and behind the tight end, showing again why his job was in jeopardy.
Two plays later, Fitzpatrick tried to throw a pass to Chad Ocho Cinco, but Eric Wright made a one-handed interception and headed upfield. He was hit and fumbled — right to Ocho Cinco.
At that moment, no one in the stadium had any doubt why these two teams were winless.
Notes: It was Edwards’ first touchdown catch of the season. ... The Bengals managed only 211 yards. It was the third consecutive game that the Browns’ defense held a team to less than 300 yards. ... RB Jamal Lewis scored Cleveland’s first rushing touchdown of the season. He had 36 yards on the opening drive, only 43 the rest of the way. ... Ocho Cinco caught a 4-yard touchdown pass, his first of the season. He didn’t celebrate.
CSN: Brian Urlacher, who played 13 seasons for the Bears, announced his retirement from football Wenesday on his personal twitter account.
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