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An exciting AFC North clash between the Cleveland Browns (4-7) and Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) ended in a 23-20 victory for the Bengals, who have been one of the surprise teams of the year. The Browns welcomed back running backs Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty from injury, as they joined Chris Ogbonnaya, who has performed admirably during their absences.
Cleveland were still without the services of defensive back T. J. Ward however, and Usama Young had to shoulder the responsibilities at strong safety. Cincinnati had injury concerns of their own, and were without defensive end Carlos Dunlap and offensive linemen Anthony Collins and Clint Boling.
They were boosted though by left tackle Andrew Whitworth being declared active after a thigh injury, and rookie wide receiver A. J. Green returning after missing their last game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Normally a ferocious contest between two sides battling it out for third place in the AFC North, the Bengals form in the first half of the season had many predicting that the Browns would struggle, as Cincinnati look to upset the old order of both Baltimore and the Pittsburgh Steelers dominating the division.
Cleveland, however, had no intention of sitting back and letting the game be dictated to them, and took an early lead when Colt McCoy found Jordan Norwood for a 24-yard touchdown pass at the end of an 82-yard drive for the visiting side. The Bengals hit back quickly though, leveling the scores by the end of the first quarter, as running back Cedric Benson found space and cruised in for a 16-yard touchdown, taking a big hit from the Cleveland defense as coasted into the end zone.
This served to reignite the Browns, who regained the lead in the second quarter, successfully kicking a field goal, before extending their lead to 10 points when rookie Greg Little climbed high at the back of the end zone to collect a 3-yard touchdown pass from McCoy. Both teams traded field goals early in the second half, maintaining the Browns lead of 10 points.
This lead was then cut to just three when Andy Dalton, who continued his excellent recent form, finishing with 271 yards, a touchdown and no interception, found tight end Jermaine Gresham for a 22-yard touchdown, with Gresham leaping acrobatically to take the ball above the heads of the Cleveland defense.
The game was tightly poised as time began to run down in the fourth quarter, but kicker Mike Nugent kept his cool as he kicked two field goals, the latter coming with just over a minute left on the clock, to give the Bengals a deserved victory over their AFC North rivals.
Cincinnati will now be looking to upset both Baltimore and Pittsburgh as they keep alive their goal of finishing top of the AFC North, and the return from injury of Green, who caught three receptions 110 yards, as well as the Pro-Bowl form of Dalton could combine to make this dream a very real possibility.
Cleveland continue to have a disappointing season, but will be more optimistic going into games now with the return of their two best running backs, and Hillis in particular will be keen to impress, with the Browns already admitting they may be willing to let the inconsistent tailback leave at the end of the season.
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