CINCINNATI With Derek Anderson struggling to find his touch on a windy afternoon, the Cleveland Browns threw away a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in five years.
No surprise, really. Nothing comes easy to these guys.
Anderson's consecutive interceptions set up a pair of rapid-fire touchdowns late in the first half, and he threw four in all Sunday, helping the Cincinnati Bengals get a 19-14 victory that left the Browns scrambling for a playoff spot.
Cleveland (9-6) could have clinched with a victory over the down-and-out Bengals (6-9), who had nothing more than pride on the line and several starters out with injuries. The Browns acted more like the team playing it out.
They dropped passes. They botched a field-goal attempt. They came up short on fourth-and-short. Ultimately, they couldn't overcome a bad game by Anderson, who had his best moments when the intrastate rivals met in September.
He tied his career high with the four interceptions, leaving the Browns scuffling with Tennessee for a wild-card berth. With Cleveland's loss, the Pittsburgh Steelers clinched the AFC North title.
Anderson's interceptions on consecutive plays helped the Bengals score two touchdowns in a 39-second span late in the first half, putting them up 19-0. He also had a deflected pass intercepted in the end zone, and another picked off inside the 20.
Given one final chance when Kenny Watson fumbled at the Cleveland 17 line with 1:48 left, the Browns drove to the Bengals 29. But Anderson's final pass into the end zone was knocked down.
Quite a turnaround.
Anderson threw five touchdown passes in a 51-45 win over the Bengals in the second week of the season, a career day that got Cleveland headed in the right direction. With a chance to take the Browns into the playoffs, he went 29-of-48 for 250 yards and a pair of touchdown passes to Braylon Edwards.
It wasn't all his fault, of course.
One of the NFL's worst defenses allowed Watson to run for 130 yards and a touchdown, only the fourth 100-yard game of his career. Starter Rudi Johnson was inactive with a hamstring injury that has bothered him most of the season.
The Browns had everything in their favor. Thousands of their fans were in the stands, taking advantage of local indifference to another losing season. Scalpers had plenty of tickets available on street corners.
Gusting winds made the goal posts gyrate and dropped the wind chill into the teens not the best conditions, but still far better than the whiteout for Cleveland's 8-0 win over Buffalo last week that also came down to the final drive.
Now, the Browns' season could go right down to the end, too.