CINCINNATI — Romeo Crennel, coach of the Cleveland Browns, said his team has a long road to go and room for much improvement.
So where does that put the Cincinnati Bengals, 20-12 losers in Sunday's showdown of 0-3 teams?
"Every time we lose, I'm tired of saying what I have to say," Coach Marvin Lewis said at his news conference. "I'd rather come in here and say a lot less by winning."
(Imitate Jim Mora here: "Playoffs? Playoffs?!")
Only one team, the 1992 San Diego Chargers, has recovered from an 0-4 start to reach the playoffs.
The Bengals saw their season all but skewered with Carson Palmer on the sideline with a sore right elbow, breaking his string of 51 consecutive starts.
"It was a precautionary move to not allow him to play today, which went against his wishes, so that we have an opportunity to have him ready to go for next week and beyond," Lewis said. "We'll evaluate where he is on Wednesday. It is progressing, but today it was the best thing to do for him long-term."
If Palmer isn't ready, Ryan Fitzpatrick will get his second straight start, the fifth of his career, at Dallas. The Harvard scrambler led an inept Bengals rushing game Sunday, gaining 41 of the team's 69 yards on four dashes. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown but was sacked three times and intercepted three times.
"Coming in, I wanted to supply a spark to the team and try to get the offense going a little bit," Fitzpatrick said. "There were some plays that I made out there, and there were some plays that I wish I could have back."
In all, the Bengals turned over the ball five times, three more than Cleveland.
"We got a little careless with the ball today at times, and that will hurt you. You can't do that," Lewis said. "Ryan did a lot of good things, but we have to take care of the football."
Browns quarterback Derek Anderson came into the game on a short leash. Three bad outings had Crennel considering a switch to Brady Quinn.
Anderson went the distance, though, doing just enough to win. He finished 15-for-24, good for 138 yards and a TD. He was sacked once and intercepted by Chinedum Ndukwe — the Bengals' first pick of the season.
"You have to get a feel as this thing goes along," Crennel said. " 'D.A.' was harassed a little bit, particularly on one of the interceptions. I think that probably, if he was not harassed, that would have been a good play for our team.
"So I decided to give him another chance, and he went out and took advantage of it and finished out the game on a strong note."
The Bengals led 6-3 at halftime, getting field goals of 42 and 45 yards by Shayne Graham. Cleveland's Phil Dawson opened the scoring with a 26-yarder.
A Mike Adams interception gave the Browns a chance for more in the second quarter. But on fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 45, Anderson's pass to wide-open Steve Heiden landed near the receiver's feet.
The Bengals then got the go-ahead field goal by Graham, thanks to a play that surely will wind up on a bloopers video.
Eric Wright intercepted a Fitzpatrick pass intended for Chad Ocho Cinco. Wright returned the ball 17 yards before Bengals back Chris Perry forced a fumble. Ocho Cinco, pursuing Wright from behind, recovered at the Cleveland 45 to keep the drive alive.
A third-quarter interception by Cincinnati's David Jones was negated because Antwan Odom was offsides. That helped the Browns go on to score the first touchdown of the game.
After just missing Braylon Edwards on a fade to the right corner of the end zone, Anderson came back with a fade to the left. Edwards made a one-handed grab for a 4-yard score, and Dawson's PAT made it 10-6 with 13:05 left in the game.
The Bengals' Perry, crushed by Kamerion Wimbley, fumbled on the next play from scrimmage. Cleveland's Adams recovered at the Cincinnati 24, leading to a 1-yard touchdown vault by Jamal Lewis and a 17-6 Cleveland lead with 11:06 left.
The Bengals, already out of timeouts, put together a snappy touchdown drive. Fitzpatrick found Ocho Cinco for a 4-yard score with 7:46 left. A two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving it 17-12.
The Bengals got the ball back two more times.
Alex Hall got to Fitzpatrick for a sack and forced fumble, which led to a 29-yard field goal by Dawson.
"... Everybody thinks they can be that guy, to make that play," Hall said. "Fortunately enough, I made the play."
Terry Cousin picked off a desperation pass with four seconds left.
"I think the confidence of the team will be lifted a little bit now that they know they can win," Crennel said. "... Maybe some of the frustrations of losing, we can put that in the back seat and try to work towards pulling this team together and getting this team better."
Holt runs wild on kickoffs
Bengals kick returner Glenn Holt, the former Kentucky standout, returned four kickoffs for 122 yards, with a long of 41. He also downed a Kyle Larson punt at the Cleveland 2-yard line.
A 44-yard kick return by Josh Cribbs to open the second half gave the Browns a spark.
Said Holt: "Every time I play against him, we always say it's a battle of the 16s (the uniform number for each). My other 10 teammates on the kickoff-return team are really good. I talked to them and tell them to believe that every time they kick it off I'm going to take it the distance."