After a tough loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday and a week full of Odell Beckham Jr. drama, the Browns (5-4) were able to put together a complete game and blowout the Cincinnati Bengals 41-16 at Paul Brown Stadium.
Many looked at this game as a must win for the Browns to keep pace in the AFC North after a disappointing 4-4 start that left them in last place in the division. Cleveland answered the call on Sunday in a big way. The offense was fluid and Baker Mayfield was able to throw the ball downfield, something we haven't seen much of this season. The addition of Donovan Peoples-Jones who returned from a hamstring injury and the subtraction of the disgruntled Beckham seemed to spark the passing game.
The defense made some big plays on the day, but none bigger than the first series of the game. The Bengals were driving having gone 75 yards down to the Browns 3-yard line. On 3rd and goal Bengals QB Joe Burrow was picked off at the 1-yard line by Browns CB Denzel Ward who returned it 99 yards for a touchdown giving the Browns an early 7-0 lead. It was the second longest interception return for a touchdown in Browns history.
Video credit: CBS Sports
The Bengals were able to bounce back on their next possession with an 11 play 75-yard drive that ended with a Joe Mixon 11-yard touchdown run. The extra point by Evan McPherson tied the game at 7.
Cleveland struck back on their first offensive possession of the game with their own 75 yard drive. A pass interference penalty in the end zone on 3rd and 4 from the Bengals 7-yard line gave the Browns a first and goal at the 1-yard line. After a Baker Mayfield incomplete pass to David Njoku on first down, Nick Chubb plunged in after a great second effort for the touchdown. Chase McLaughlin converted the extra point for a 14-7 lead with 14:45 to play in the 2nd quarter.
The Browns defense then came up big as they stopped the Bengals on a 4th and 3 from the Browns 40-yard line. The next play was a big strike 60-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield to Peoples-Jones who got behind the defense for Cleveland's third touchdown of the 1st half. McLaughlin's extra point put the Browns up 21-7 with 10;10 to go before halftime.
Yet another big defensive play ensued for Cleveland on the Bengals next possession as safety John Johnson stripped Bengals rookie WR Ja'Marr Chase forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Browns A.J. Green at the Cincinnati 46-yard line. The Browns were able to get into the red zone but could not put it in the end zone as McLaughlin converted a 28-yard field goal extending the Browns lead to 24-7 with 4:10 to play in the half.
Cincinnati converted a 27-yard field goal by Evan McPherson to close out the half with the Browns leading 24-10.
After both teams punted on their first possessions of the second half, the Browns were able to strike big again as Nick Chubb broke off a 70-yard touchdown run on 2nd and 10. The McLaughlin extra point put the Browns up 31-10. Chubb looked like himself again after his calf injury seemed to have slowed him down in his return against the Steelers a week ago.
Denzel Ward then came up big again as he tipped a Burrow pass intended for Chase right into the hands of John Johnson who returned it to the Bengals 8-yard line. Two incomplete passes and a false start penalty resulted in a Chase McLaughlin 24-yard field goal extending the Cleveland lead to 34-10 with 5:14 left in the 3rd quarter.
Cincinnati kept their slim hopes alive when Joe Mixon once again found the end zone this time from 2-yards out. However the two-point conversion failed making the score 34-16 in favor of the Browns.
The Browns were able to erase any doubt with 4:27 left in the game after holding the Bengals on 4th down for the second time on the day. Baker Mayfield found tight end David Njoku from 18 yards out for the final score of the day. McLaughlin's extra point put the Browns up 41-16 in what would end up being the final score.
It was a great bounce back game all around for the Browns on both sides of the ball. Baker Mayfield was an efficient 14 of 21 for 218 yards with 2 touchdowns and no turnovers. Nick Chubb accumulated 163 total yards (157 on the ground) and 2 rushing touchdowns.
Defensively Cleveland held the Bengals to 85 yards rushing and forced three turnovers. They also sacked Joe Burrow 5 times with 3 of them coming from defensive back Troy Hill who played his best game in a Cleveland uniform. Myles Garrett added to his league lead with another 1-1/2 sacks bringing his total to 12 in 9 games.
The Browns and Bengals now both sit at 5-4 in a 3rd place tie in the AFC North. The Ravens defeated the Vikings in overtime 34-31 making them 6-2 atop the North. The 4-3 Steelers host the Chicago Bears on Monday night.
Next up for the Browns is a visit to Foxborough to take on the 5-4 New England Patriots next Sunday at 1:00 PM.