Defense Leads Browns Over Bad Bengals

By JOE KAY, AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - For at least a week, Dwayne Rudd will be spared questions about his helmet.

He kept it strapped on tight Sunday as the Cleveland Browns rebounded from his costly fling and got their season moving in the direction they wanted.

A 20-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals allowed the linebacker to slip into the background after being the talk of the town for one nightmarish week.

Slow-to-forgive Browns fans might even forget about Rudd's blunder -- throwing his helmet in a premature celebration against Kansas City -- if Sunday's win turns out to be the start of something big.

"It only shuts the door if we are able to go out and do what we are capable of, and that's making the playoffs," Rudd said. "We won't want to be one win away from the playoffs and have everybody look back to last week as the reason we didn't make it."

The Browns (1-1) didn't exactly look like a playoff team Sunday in front of the biggest crowd in their stadium's four-year history. They didn't have to play great to beat a team that's having another relapse.

There were more vintage moments from the NFL's worst team since 1991.

The Bengals (0-2) botched a fake field goal, had a player penalized for removing his helmet on the field and fussed at each other as their offense once again went nowhere.

Gus Frerotte provided the definitive gaffe. He tried to throw the ball away with his left hand to avoid a sack late in the first half, and instead threw an interception that changed the game. Kenard Lang picked it off and ran 71 yards to set up a touchdown that put the Browns up 17-0 at halftime.

After throwing three interceptions and getting sacked five times, Frerotte was asked if he'd be surprised to lose his job.

"Yes, I would, but you wouldn't," Frerotte said. "I mean, that's what you guys want, but I'm not going to let that happen. I could have no feet and no hands and I'll still be out there."

The Bengals aren't the only team with a question at quarterback. Kelly Holcomb played another solid game Sunday as the fill-in for Tim Couch, who is expected back this week.

While Couch watched from the sideline in uniform, Holcomb went 17-of-30 for 198 yards with two touchdown passes. In his two starts, Holcomb has completed 64 percent of his passes for 524 yards and five touchdowns.

"If Tim is 100 percent, Tim is the starting quarterback," coach Butch Davis said after the game.

Holcomb won't be surprised if he's soon a backup.

"I wouldn't be human if I said it didn't bother me, but the realistic point of view is, that's my job," Holcomb said.

It's anybody's guess what the Bengals have to do to get their offense going. Corey Dillon was the only threat Sunday -- 108 yards rushing, a team-high eight catches for 67 yards as he accounted for nearly half of the Bengals' total yards.

Other than Dillon, there wasn't much else as a team with preseason playoff aspirations fell to 0-2.

"I'm very surprised, but I've been there before, so it's nothing new," Dillon said.

Notes: Browns DE Courtney Brown was inactive for the game because of a sore neck. ... Davis screamed at DE Mark Word for celebrating by taking off his helmet just before he reached the sideline late in the game. Word wasn't penalized. ... Phil Dawson kicked two field goals, including one from 52 yards that was a career best.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)