The Cleveland Browns were struggling as they traveled to Cincinnati to play their intrastate rivals, the Bengals, on October 29, 1995. Head Coach Bill Belichick’s team was underachieving. They had reached the playoffs in ’94 but were coming into Cincinnati at 3-4 after sustaining three consecutive defeats. WR Andre Rison was brought in as a free agent and had failed to provide the anticipated impact and the running game was not up to par. The Browns looked especially lackluster against the expansion Jaguars the previous week and Coach Belichick chose to bench veteran QB Vinny Testaverde in favor of rookie QB Eric Zeier (pictured above).
The Bengals were in their fourth year under Head Coach David Shula, and that included back-to-back 3-13 records in 1993 and ’94. They were also 3-4 thus far, having won their first two games before dropping four straight and then defeating Pittsburgh in their most recent contest. There was talent on offense with QB Jeff Blake, TE Tony McGee, and wide receivers Darney Scott and Carl Pickens. But the defense was deficient, especially against the pass.
There were 58,639 fans in attendance at Riverfront Stadium. The Bengals had the first possession and advanced 85 yards in seven plays, helped along by a 46-yard pass interference call on CB Antonio Langham. RB Harold Green ran for 16 yards on first down and Jeff Blake completed four passes, the last of which was to Green from a yard out for a touchdown. However, a bad snap forced Cincinnati to abort the extra point attempt and the pass attempt from the holder, punter Lee Johnson, fell incomplete.
The Browns responded by driving 33 yards in 11 plays. Eric Zeier completed two passes that converted third downs, but an apparent completion to TE Brian Kinchen for 20 yards on a third-and-nine play from the Cincinnati 25 was flagged for offensive pass interference and Cleveland ultimately had to settle for a 44-yard Matt Stover field goal that narrowed the score to 6-3.
The Bengals punted following their next series and, in a possession that extended into the second quarter, Cleveland advanced 65 yards in 12 plays. The biggest was a Zeier throw to RB Earnest Byner for 22 yards in a third-and-seven situation, but with first-and-goal from the Cincinnati six, the visitors were unable to advance farther and Stover tied the score with a 25-yard field goal.
Cincinnati moved effectively on the next possession as Green carried twice for 19 yards and Blake completed passes to Tony McGee for nine yards and RB Eric Bieniemy for 19. A roughing-the-passer penalty got the Bengals to the Cleveland 23, but Green, who was injured on the play, fumbled and DT Tim Goad recovered for the Browns. Zeier immediately threw to Andre Rison (pictured below) for 23 yards but the series ended at the Cleveland 39 when RB Leroy Hoard lost a yard on a fourth-and-one play.
The teams traded turnovers before the Bengals, taking over with 4:48 left in the first half, put together a drive of 66 yards in nine plays. Facing third-and-ten, Blake connected with Darnay Scott for 18 yards and then followed up with another 18-yard completion, this time to McGee. Another completion, to WR David Dunn, gained 15 yards and an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Browns added another 15 to the Cleveland 19. The drive stalled, but Doug Pelfrey booted a 37-yard field goal that moved Cincinnati back in front by 9-6.
With the clock now down to 1:08, the Browns moved down the field with Zeier completing four passes, the longest to Rison for 46 yards. Stover kicked a 36-yard field goal and, when Pelfrey’s last-ditch try for a 63-yard field goal fell short, the score was 9-9 at the half.
The Browns had the ball first in the third quarter and broke the tie with an 11-play, 55-yard drive. Zeier completed five passes, the longest for 17 yards to Byner to reach the Cincinnati 20, but again the advance stalled and Stover came on to kick his fourth field goal, from 38 yards, to make it a 12-9 game.
The Bengals came back with an 80-yard possession that used eight plays. Green ran effectively and Blake completed passes to Scott for 31 yards and Bieniemy for 32. Facing third-and-goal, Blake completed an eight-yard touchdown pass to Carl Pickens and, with Pelfrey’s point after, the home team led by 16-12.
Zeier threw to Rison for a 59-yard gain to the Cincinnati five on the first play following the kickoff, but he was sacked and his next pass was intercepted by LB Steve Tovar. The Bengals had to punt, with Lee Johnson’s kick traveling only 27 yards to give the Browns good starting field position at their own 48. It came to naught as, with the game now into the fourth quarter, Cleveland was pushed back by penalties and had to punt in turn.
Following another punt by the Bengals, the Browns put together a 90-yard series in six plays. Zeier completed two passes before running for a 22-yard gain to the Cincinnati 37. After a pass interference call picked up another 20 yards, Zeier threw high to a leaping Rison for a 17-yard TD. Stover’s kick put the Browns in the lead by 19-16.
Cincinnati went three-and-out and punted and the Browns had to punt as well. However, the visitors got a break when Tom Tupa’s 64-yard kick was muffed by CB Corey Sawyer and CB Johnny Thomas recovered for Cleveland at the Bengals’ five. Two plays later, Byner ran for a three-yard touchdown. Stover kicked the extra point and, with less than three minutes remaining in regulation, the Browns were ahead by 26-16.
The Bengals needed to score quickly and Blake passed for 10 yards to RB James Joseph but suffered a slight concussion when sacked on the next play. Backup QB David Klingler, who was just coming back from being sidelined with a broken jaw, came into the game and threw to Bieniemy for 33 yards. Following the two-minute warning, Klingler threw an incomplete pass and was then sacked, but facing third-and-20 he hit McGee for a gain of 21 yards. Pelfrey kicked a 41-yard field goal and it was a seven-point game with 1:09 on the clock.
The Bengals executed a successful onside kick and were back on offense at the Cleveland 37. Klingler threw to Dunn for 17 yards but, after two more passes fell incomplete, consecutive pass interference penalties on Langham moved the ball to the one yard line. From there, Klingler threw to Pickens for a touchdown and Pelfrey’s extra point sent the contest into overtime tied at 26-26.
The Browns had the first possession in the extra period and punted. Cincinnati, with Blake again behind center, also had a short series and punted. Following another Cleveland punt, the Bengals had the ball at their own 38 and Blake went to the air. DB Dana Hall intercepted the tipped ball and the Browns were back on offense at the Cincinnati 45. Zeier threw to FB Tommy Vardell for seven yards and the fullback then rushed for six more. Following an incomplete pass, Byner ran around end for a 23-yard gain to the nine and, two plays later, Stover kicked a 28-yard field goal to give the Browns a 29-26 win.
Cleveland led in total yards (480 to 384) although the Bengals had the edge in first downs (27 to 26). The Browns also had five sacks, to two by Cincinnati, while the Bengals turned the ball over four times, to two suffered by Cleveland. Both teams were heavily penalized, with the Browns drawing 15 flags, at a cost of 188 yards, to 10 thrown on Cincinnati.
Eric Zeier completed 26 of 46 passes for 310 yards and a touchdown while giving up one interception and also rushed for 44 yards on 8 carries. Andre Rison had his most productive game with Cleveland, catching 7 passes for 173 yards and a TD. Earnest Byner ran for 74 yards on 17 attempts that included a score and also had four pass receptions for 43 yards. Matt Stover made good on all five his field goal attempts.
For the Bengals, Jeff Blake was successful on 20 of 35 throws for 249 yards and two TDs while also giving up two interceptions. In relief, David Klingler went five-of-11 for 73 yards and a touchdown. Eric Bieniemy (pictured at left) caught 6 passes for 95 yards while adding 19 yards on four rushing attempts. Harold Green topped the club with 66 yards on 14 carries and scored a TD on one of his four pass receptions for 23 yards.
“I’m exhausted right now,” said Eric Zeier. “It was a great football game. It’s the kind you want to be part of and remember for a long time.”
The good showing by Eric Zeier in his first career start was not followed by comparable outings and Vinny Testaverde regained the starting job later in the season. By then, owner Art Modell had let it be known that the Browns would be moving to Baltimore in 1996, and the team completely collapsed down the stretch to finish at 5-11 and in fourth place in the AFC Central. They swept the season series with Cincinnati, but the Bengals still managed to finish ahead of them in second at 7-9.
Zeier completed 82 of 161 passes for 864 yards and four touchdowns while giving up nine interceptions overall in 1995. He moved with the franchise to Baltimore and spent another three years with the rechristened Ravens, having only middling success when again given the opportunity to start. Andre Rison ended up with 47 catches for 701 yards (14.9 avg.) and three touchdowns, which was well below expectations, and he didn’t remain with the relocated club. He spent the ’96 season with Jacksonville and Green Bay before briefly rejuvenating his career with the Chiefs in 1997.