A week of drama turned into a day of domination for the Browns, who went to Cincinnati and left with a 41-16 win. Among the Browns’ keys to victory was a stellar performance by their secondary that included a 99-yard pick-six by Denzel Ward on the game’s first drive. Ward’s score was one of three touchdowns of at least 60 yards by the Browns, who improved to 5-4 on the season. Cincinnati, who two weeks ago was the AFC’s top-seeded team, are now all alone in last place in the AFC North standings.
Baker Mayfield had one of the best games of his career. His biggest play was a 60-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones that stretched the Browns’ lead to 21-7. Nick Chubb’s 70-yard touchdown jaunt at the start of the second half gave Cleveland a 31-10 lead. The Browns’ defense was led by Ward, Troy Hill and Myles Garrett. Hill had three sacks, the most ever by a Browns defensive back. Garrett had 1.5 sacks of the Browns’ five sacks of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.
The Browns’ victory was a defiant response to the week-long storyline involving Odell Beckham Jr., who has played his last down for Cleveland. Including Sunday’s game, the Browns went 8-4 without Beckham in their lineup over the past two seasons.
Here’s a closer look at what transpired in Cincinnati.
Why the Browns won
Ward set the tone with his pick-six on the game’s opening drive. The Browns’ secondary made a slew of big plays following Ward’s pick-six. With the Browns leading 14-7, Hill’s fourth-down breakup of a Burrow pass set up Mayfield’s 60-yard touchdown pass to Peoples-Jones on the very next play. AJ Green’s recovery of John Johnson III’s forced fumble on the Bengals’ next drive set up Chase McLaughlin’s 27-yard field goal. The unit kept a close eye on Bengals rookie sensation Ja’Marr Chase, who was held to 49 yards on six receptions.
It was an extremely efficient day for Mayfield, who went 14 of 21 for 218 yards with touchdown passes to Peoples-Jones and tight end David Njoku. Chubb ran through and around Cincinnati’s defense to the tune of 137 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries.
Why the Bengals lost
Along with not forcing a turnover, the Bengals coughed the ball up three times that led to 13 Cleveland points. Two of those turnovers were off the right arm of Burrow, who has thrown seven interceptions in the Bengals’ last five games. The 20th-ranked third-down offense in the NFL entering the game, the Bengals were just 3 of 15 on third and fourth downs on Sunday. Cincinnati also endured two big drops by Chase, who had his least productive day as a pro. With Chase blanketed for most of the day, the Bengals received a solid afternoon from Tee Higgins, who led the team with 78 yards on six receptions. Cincinnati also received a strong effort by Mixon, who tallied 110 total yards and two touchdowns.
They were tough on third down, but the Bengals’ defense wasn’t nearly as good on first or second down. Poor tackling was also an issue, as Cincinnati defenders bounced off of Chubb during his back-breaking, 70-yard touchdown run.
It appeared that a back-and-fourth shootout was in the works after touchdowns were scored on the game’s first three possessions. But on Cincinnati’s third drive, a sack by Hill and a drop by Bengals running back Samaje Perine on third down set up Hill’s fourth-down pass breakup on a pass intended for Tyler Boyd. Mayfield hit Peoples-Jones for a momentum-changing touchdown just seconds later, as the Browns never led by less than 14 points for the remainder of the game.
Play of the game
Ward’s pick turned a sure Bengals score into a 7-0 Browns lead. Ward cut in front of Chase before sprinting untouched to complete the second-longest defensive touchdowns in Browns history.
A shoutout is also in order on Chubb’s long touchdown run, as the running back took advantage of textbook blocking before sprinting to pay dirt.
“I wish him well. I really do. He’s a friend of mine. My feelings haven’t changed.” — Mayfield on Beckham, via Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot.
Stats and stuff
The Bengals ran the first 20 offensive plays in Sunday’s game, becoming the first team to do so in a regular-season game since the Saints in 2018. Cincinnati trailed 24-10 at halftime despite having the ball for more than 22 minutes and running 42 plays to Cleveland’s 15 plays.
Cleveland became the first team since the 1967 Chargers to record a pick-six, a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown of more than 60 yards.
The Bengals will enter their bye week before playing five of their final eight games at home. Cincinnati has three more games against AFC North division foes that include a Week 18 showdown in Cleveland. The Browns’ next game will be next Sunday at New England, a place where Cleveland has not won since 1992, when Bill Belichick was its head coach. The Patriots improved to 5-4 on the year following Sunday’s 24-6 win over the Panthers.