CINCINNATI – The Cleveland Browns came to the Jungle prepared to win, while Cincinnati prepared … well … to be the Bengals.
The Browns rebounded from last week’s loss to Pittsburgh and pounded the Bengals 41-16 in front of 65,451 fans at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
Cincinnati’s success in the first half of the season was the talk of the NFL in recent weeks, but has since dropped two consecutive games and is 5-4 overall.
Baltimore, which the Bengals dominated 41-17 on Oct. 24, is now first in the division at 6-2, while Cincinnati falls back into its familiar last place.
“We just felt like we let an opportunity slip through our hand today. We didn’t deserve to win. Cleveland did,” said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. “They beat us plain and simple. People are going to paint a picture of overreaction when you lose two games in a row. We are not.”
Last week, Cincinnati lost 34-31 to the hapless 2-6 New York Jets.
For the first time in the nine-week season, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow did not throw a touchdown pass.
To clarify, Burrow did not throw a TD pass to any of his Cincinnati targets.
In the opening drive, Burrow was impressive and connected on five passes for 65 yards.
But he was picked off by Cleveland’s Denzel Ward at the one-yard line, who then returned the interception 99 yards for a touchdown and Cleveland led 7-0.
Burrow finished the day with 282 yards passing and completed 28 of 40 passes, but was picked off twice.
”I didn’t play very well,” Burrow said. ”If I play better, we have a chance to win that game. I just didn’t play well, and that’s all there is to it. He made a good play. I left it inside a bit. If you do that, Denzel, he’s going to make you pay.”
Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon, who finished with 64 yards rushing and two scores, tied the game with 4:10 to go in the first quarter on an 11-yard rumble.
Cleveland (5-4) responded and moved the ball at will.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield connected with running back Nick Chubb for a 24-yard gain.
After a pass interference call on Cincinnati’s Ricardo Allen put the ball at the one-yard line, Chubb plowed in with 14:45 to go in the half for the 14-7 lead.
Chubb punished the Bengals’ defense for 137 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns.
After the Bengals turned the ball over on downs, Mayfield connected with Donovan Peoples-Jones on the first play from scrimmage for a 60-yard TD strike that left Cincinnati cornerback Eli Apple in the dust.
Chubb put the game out of reach when he outran the Cincinnati defense 70 yards with eight minutes to go in the third to give the Browns a 31-10 lead.
With that run, Cleveland became the first team since the 1967 San Diego Chargers to have an interception returned for a TD, a receiving touchdown, and a rushing touchdown of at least 60 yards in the same game.
”Our whole locker room needed that,” Mayfield said of the win. ”We played for each other. It’s just the type of team we have. I trust the guys in this locker room. I’ve said it over and over again, and I truly mean it. When adversity hits, nobody flinched. It was a long week. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.”
Mayfield was referring to the controversy surrounding the release of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. last week, days after his father’s Instagram post criticized Mayfield.
“I wish him well,” Mayfield said of his former teammate. “He’s a good friend of mine. I wish him the best in his career, but I’m worried about the guys in our locker room. I’m proud of these guys how they were able to focus up despite all the [stuff] that was going on this week and how they were able to do their job.”
Mayfield finished the game with 218 yards passing and completed 14 of 21 passes and had two TDs.
With the back-to-back losses, the Bengals have their bye week before heading to Las Vegas to take on the Raiders, which is dealing with a lot of issues off the field.
The latest centers around the tragic news of former wide receiver Henry Ruggs III, who was released from the Raiders last Tuesday after he was charged with at least three felonies for his involvement in a fiery crash that left a 23-year-old woman and her dog dead and seriously injured his girlfriend.
The investigation into the accident is ongoing, but a Yahoo! Sports report says that prosecutors intend to charge Ruggs III with more counts of DUI and reckless driving, as well as possession of a firearm while under the influence.
In all, Ruggs III could face up to 40 years in prison, according to the report.
After the road trip, the Bengals come home for three games against Pittsburgh, San Diego and San Francisco.
Two weeks ago, the Bengals were in the driver’s seat in the AFC North.
After Sunday’s loss to Cleveland, they are in the back row of a 15-passenger van looking for a convenient rest stop.
“We still have a really good team,” Burrow said. “We are 5-4. We’re excited about where we’re at going forward. We’re going to come back to work ready to go. We’ve got a tough, resilient team, and we’re going to come back to work, get better each day and focus on the next one.”
Del Duduit covers the Bengals for the Daily Times