Browns embarrass themselves in loss to Bengals

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns’ chances to right their season have come and gone like a leaf in the wind.

The Browns embarrassed themselves in consecutive weeks, first against the 0-2 Colts and then on Sunday against the 0-3 Bengals. Cincinnati took a 21-0 lead at halftime before cruising through the second en route to a 31-7 win.

It was another pitiful performance in a winless first quarter of the season, as the Browns in the first half alone had dropped passes, an interception (off a dropped pass), a missed field goal and touchdown scored by Cincinnati with 47 seconds left on a screen pass that turned into a 61-yard score.

The team can talk all it wants about a long-term rebuild, but this season it has left its fans holding on to very little. Losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore to start the season were difficult, but these losses to winless teams were painful. Sunday's was humiliating.

A team that was supposed to start to establish a turnaround in 2017 has established nothing, and instead is disappointing a fan base that keeps coming back for more. The fans didn't stay on Sunday, though. The stands were 75 percent empty with nine minutes still to play.

What it means: It means 2017 will require a miraculous turnaround to leave any good feelings. An 0-4 start is bad, but an 0-4 start when the Browns start games like they’re sleeping is baffling. In four games this season, the Browns have been outscored 84-28 in the first half. That’s bad defense, bad offense, bad football, a bad team.

What I liked: Nothing truly worth noting. The game might have been worse than the final score indicated.

What I didn’t like: The Browns’ infatuation with rookie Jabrill Peppers as a do-everything safety has reached … interesting proportions. On an early third-down play, the Browns lined up corner Briean Boddy-Calhoun on A.J. Green in the slot. But Boddy-Calhoun began to move closer to the tackle, which put Peppers on Green in the slot. Boddy-Calhoun blitzed, and Green was given a free release on a basic out pattern that resulted in an easy 7-yard touchdown. Green is one of the best receivers in the league. Asking a rookie safety whose forte is not coverage to cover one of the best receivers in the league is a head-scratcher.

Fantasy fallout: It has seemed like Isaiah Crowell would right himself given an opportunity in any one of the first four games. He played in 2016 like a back ready to have a big season in 2017. Through four games he has 46 carries; on Sunday he had seven. It’s to the point where it’s no longer an aberration: Crowell either is not part of the plan, his mind is not into it because of his contract, or his 2016 was an aberration. It’s time to wonder what happens with him the rest of the season.

Players who stepped up, players who didn’t: One guy comes to mind as stepping up. Defensive lineman Emmanuel Ogbah forced two fumbles and recovered one. His recovery gave the Browns a chance to score early, but the offense botched that chance. … The defense gave up that 61-yard screen pass for a touchdown with 47 seconds left in the first half. The much-discussed defense has given up a score in the final two minutes in every game this season. … Kenny Britt remains a giant enigma. He fell coming out of his route to snuff out the possession after Obgah’s fumble recovery, had a false-start penalty on the first drive and dropped a pass at the 10 that turned into a Cincinnati interception. Britt has been a major disappointment in the first four games. … The Browns had trouble covering the tight end all day. Cincinnati’s Tyler Kroft had two touchdown receptions. ... The offense’s only score came with 1:54 left, and the Browns barely topped 200 yards for the day.

What’s next: Josh McCown brings the New York Jets to town. When the season started, this seemed like a team that would not be competitive; instead the Jets have found a spark and could send the Browns to 0-5.