CLEVELAND (AP) - On a day of mistakes, the Browns' biggest error was unforgivable.
They weren't ready.
Cleveland's defense got caught napping in the huddle by Cincinnati backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to rookie A.J. Green in the fourth quarter and rallied the Bengals to a 27-17 win Sunday over the sloppy Browns in coach Pat Shurmur's debut.
The Browns overcame a horrid start but were done in by dropped passes, shanked punts, bad decisions and too many penalties, including one on Shurmur, who accidentally knocked down an official in the first quarter.
``It's unacceptable,' said Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown. ``We're going to find a way to fix it.'
After overcoming a 13-0 deficit, the Browns were protecting a 17-13 lead in the fourth when Gradkowski, who came in for injured rookie Andy Dalton, outfoxed them. Facing a third-and-11, Gradkowski and the Bengals lined up quickly and snapped the ball before the Browns, some of whom had their back to the Bengals, could react.
Gradkowski then lobbed the ball to a wide-open Green.
``It took forever for it to get to me,' said the first-round pick.
Once in his hands, there was no catching Green. He sprinted into the end zone untouched and the Bengals tacked on some insurance when Cedric Benson scored on a 39-yard TD burst.
Benson said the Bengals' trickery was planned.
``The play is designed to catch them napping,' he said. ``We caught them napping.'
Browns cornerback Joe Haden was the closest to Green, but couldn't do anything to stop him.
``We weren't ready, everybody was scrambling,' said Haden, who knocked down five passes. ``We were all in the huddle, trying to get the play and didn't realize everybody (the Bengals) was already lined up. Not a good look for us.'
Cleveland fell to 1-12 in season openers since 1999, and afterward, a red-faced Shurmur wasn't convinced the Bengals didn't at least bend the rules.
``They quick snapped us,' Shurmur said. ``I'll have to watch the tape, but it's my understanding they changed personnel, lined up and then quick snapped. There's rules that go along with that, so we'll see.'
According to Rule 5, Section 2, Article 10 in the league's manual, if the offense makes a substitution, it can not snap the ball ``until the defense has been permitted to respond with its substitutions.'
Shurmur will likely ask the league to review the play, but it won't be overturned. There's nothing the first-year coach can do but prepare his squad to play better next week at Indianapolis. The Browns were penalized 11 times and looked disorganized on more than one play.
``We've got a game in seven days,' Shurmur said. ``There's plenty of stuff to clean up.'
Colt McCoy threw two TD passes for the Browns, but Cleveland's second-year QB went just 19 of 40 and never got into a rhythm. His first pass was batted back to him for one of his completions, he tried to dump a pass off to center Alex Mack and McCoy's final throw was intercepted.
``I certainly had my bad plays,' said McCoy, who dropped to 2-7 as a starter. ``It's not one person, it's all of us.'
The Bengals, thought by some to be on their way to an 0-16 season, showed resiliency and grit.
Dalton didn't play in the second half after injuring his wrist just before halftime. The second-round pick from TCU had some nice moments early on and provided hope for Cincinnati fans worrying the club would fall flat without Carson Palmer, who continues his stare-down with team ownership.
But Gradkowski came in and picked up the slack. He wasn't flashy, but managed the game and did just enough to pull out the victory. And then there was Benson, who rushed for 121 yards on 25 carries. Just a week ago, he was in a Texas jail serving a sentence for an assault conviction.
It's just one game, but for the Bengals it was an ideal start.
``We are not worried about what people say,' said Green, whose only catch was for the TD. ``We are a team and we know what we have.'
Shurmur's not there yet.
Expectations were high following a strong preseason by the Browns. Shurmur has a young team, but he's not going to tolerate mental errors.
``No excuses,' Shurmur said, his voice rising. ``I don't care if you're a rookie. I don't care if you've been in this thing for 12 years, and I don't care if this is your last game. You can't make mistakes. ... I've got to do a better job coaching and we've got to play better and then we'll win games.'
Brown said Shurmur had every right to be upset with his team.
``He's ticked and I don't blame him,' he said. ``We're all ticked.'
Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
Any commercial use or distribution without the express written
consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.