CLEVELAND - Things can't get much bleaker for the Miami Dolphins.
The Cleveland Browns built an early lead and held on for a 41-31 win yesterday that handed the Dolphins a franchise-record ninth consecutive loss.
"It is humbling," linebacker Joey Porter said. "As a team, as a defense, we have real high expectations. But we are not playing real good football right now."
The Browns (3-3) scored on three of their first four possessions to go ahead, 17-3, before Leigh Bodden intercepted Cleo Lemon's pass. Derek Anderson followed with a 24-yard touchdown throw to Braylon Edwards on the next play.
After the Dolphins (0-6) pulled within 27-24 in the third quarter, Anderson threw his second and third TD passes of the game to Edwards to put it out of reach.
"The season is not half over," first-year coach Cam Cameron said. "My experience is that when you get completely sick and tired of the feeling we have right now, then things will change."
The Dolphins, who finished last year with three straight losses, snapped the team mark of eight consecutive losses set during the 1967 season. And it seems likely that run of futility will stretch to 10 with the Patriots paying a visit next Sunday. It's so bad that even the Browns had to battle overconfidence.
"It's another step in the right direction, to be able to beat a team that everybody says you're supposed to beat," Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel said. "I talked to the guys all during the week about not underestimating these guys or taking them lightly. To be able to come out and get this win against a team that you're supposed to beat, that's a plus."
The Dolphins were hamstrung without starting quarterback Trent Green, sidelined by a concussion suffered in last week's loss at Houston. Filling in was Lemon, who passed for two scores to tight end David Martin and ran for two more in his second career start.
"We did some positive things, just not enough," said Lemon, who was 24 of 43 for 256 yards with two interceptions. Ronnie Brown added 101 yards on 19 carries.
The Browns were also missing a marquee name on offense, running back Jamal Lewis (sprained foot). His subs were more than adequate, with Jason Wright rushing for 59 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, and Jerome Harrison adding 57 yards on eight carries.
Luckily for both offenses, they were facing defenses ranked among the worst in the NFL.
Wright's 1-yard touchdown run came on the fifth offensive play. Anderson then scored on a 1-yard run, Phil Dawson hit a 40-yard field goal, and Edwards's first TD catch made it 24-3.
But the Dolphins rallied. Lemon hit Martin for a 14-yard score, then scored on two runs in the third quarter to cut the lead to 27-24.
Then Anderson again found Edwards in the end zone, where he shielded the ball from defender Will Allen to make a 5-yard catch to give the Browns some room to breathe.