CLEVELAND — In a game that had little meaning, the Cleveland Browns completed the interstate sweep of the AFC North Champions — and knocked off Cincinnati 21-16 at FirstEnergy Field on a dismal and rainy Sunday.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow did not make the trip to Cleveland and opted to rest, while Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield watched backup signal-caller Case Keenum lead the Browns to victory.
Mayfield will undergo surgery after the season to repair his left shoulder.
Burrow said earlier in the week that he would have considered playing if more was on the line.
The Bengals will host the first round of the NFL playoffs this weekend at Paul Brown Stadium.
“The season is always full of ups and downs,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. “It really comes down to which teams can handle the adversity the best, and to never get too high and to never get too low. I thought our team did a great job of that. Responding in the face of some tough adversity and handling success and some moments well.”
The Browns (8-9) beat the Bengals (10-7) both meetings this year, and got 123 yards rushing from D’Ernest Johnson on Sunday, while powerhouse running back Nick Chubb carried the ball nine times for 58 yards, but finished the season with 1,259 rushing yards.
Keenum completed 17 of 24 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns for Cleveland.
Cincinnati also sat wide receiver Tee Higgins and did not play running back Joe Mixon, because he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week.
Rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase caught two passes for 26 yards and surpassed Chad Johnson’s team record of 1,440 yards for the most in a single season.
The first-round pick from LSU finished the regular season 18 yards shy of the NFL rookie record for yards in a single season, held by Bill Groman, who hauled in 1,473 yards in 1960.
Chase finished the 2021 season with 1,455 yards.
“I was aware of it, but I did not get to go for that,” Chase said after the game. “It is cool. though. I still got a chance to go for Ochocinco’s record.”
Taylor said Chase did not lobby to play in the game so he could break the record.
“Those were plays we were going to call early in the game anyway,” he said. “We just put Ja’Marr in there. He didn’t have to be the target on those plays. He just happened to be the guy that was open. Again, he made the most out of his opportunities today.
With 2:26 to play, Cincinnati quarterback Brandon Allen connected with Chris Evans on a fourth-and-one for a four-yard touchdown.
The two-point attempt failed, and the score was 21-16.
Bengals’ kicker Elliott Fry booted the onside kick that the Browns botched, but Cincinnati could not gain possession, and the play was reviewed for several minutes.
Cleveland ran out the clock to win the game.
“All game they had been doing a good job of disguising some coverages,” Allen said. “And we had a tough time finding anything and getting going early in the game. Then I think later we had a couple of play calls that were perfect for some of the coverages there that they were playing. We were able to put together a nice drive.”
Allen finished the game with 136 yards and one touchdown and completed 15 of 29 attempts.
“I think there is always a slightly adjustment period,” he added about seeing action for the first time in a while. “You do not want there to be, but I think it is hard for there not to be just getting back to the feel of a real game and seeing everything.”
Browns defensive end Jadaveon Clowney had a big day, as he recorded two sacks and forced a fumble.
Allen’s third sack of the game was a combination of Clowney and Myles Garrett.
The duo combined for 25 sacks on the season for Cleveland.
“We have become real good guys and close to each other because we play together,” Clowney said. “I just pick his brain and he picks mine. We feed off each other out there. It is a good thing to have someone on the other end that you do not worry about. You are just like, ‘hey, I will meet you there (at the quarterback).’”
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said he was happy to see his team go out on a winning note.
“It is all about having something to play for, and I think there was something to play for and multiple things to play for today. I think the guys understood that,” he said. “To see them fight for each other and with each other one last time, I think that tells you a lot about our guys.”
The Bengals will host the Las Vegas Raiders at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium in the AFC Wild Card Round.
Cincinnati defeated the Raiders 32-13 in Week 11 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
This is the first time the teams have met in the playoffs since 1991 — when the Raiders kicked off Cincinnati’s 31-year playoff-game winning drought.