CINCINNATI (92.3 The Fan) – No team cures what ails an opponent quite like the Cleveland Browns do.
Cincinnati’s offense had been sputtering of late but they got healthy in a big way Sunday in a 30-16 win to keep Cleveland winless and their slim playoff hopes alive at 5-6.
The Bengals’ 2 largest scoring outputs this season have come at the Browns’ expense – 31 in Week 4 and Sunday. They scored 24 points in Weeks 3 and 8. They entered the game averaging 68 yards rushing and put 152 on the Browns’ sixth ranked run defense.
Here’s a look at the good and bad from Loss No. 11.
– Quarterback DeShone Kizer bounced back with a strong effort Sunday despite missing a series in the second quarter that saw him checked for a concussion. Kizer completed 18 of 31 passes for 268 yards and an 86.5 rating. Kizer, who also ran 9 times for 39 yards and a touchdown, didn’t commit a turnover in the loss that saw his offense out-gain Cincinnati 405-361. Kizer’s 5 rushing TDs this season rank behind Hall of Famer Otto Graham who rushed for 6 TDs in a season 3 different times and holds the team record with 8 rush TDs set in 1954.
– The opening drive saw running back Isaiah Crowell rip off runs of 15 and 10 yards and Duke Johnson Jr. tally 12 on a carry but the drive stalled thanks in part to a pass interference penalty on David Njoku that forced a second-and-goal from the 21 and eventually resulted in a 27-yard field goal from Zane Gonzalez for a 3-0 lead. The Browns, who also had to burn a timeout, ran for 50 yards on 7 carries on the drive and finished with 169 yards on the ground. Crowell had 95 of them on 16 carries and the Browns averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
– Myles Garrett picked up his team-leading fifth sack of the season on third-and-7 from the Cleveland 13 to force kicker Randy Bullock to boot a 31-yard field goal for a 10-3 advantage with 9:14 to play in the first half. Garrett, who was urged to “go dominate the game” by head coach Hue Jackson on Friday, also had 3 QB hits and a tackle for loss Sunday.
– The Browns caught a break when Adam Jones weaved his way for a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown because an illegal block in the back penalty wiped it out forcing the Bengals to start at the Cleveland 49 instead. The Browns’ defense was able to hold and force a 49-yard field goal from Bullock to extend the Bengals lead to 13-3 with 6:12 left in the first half. The penalty save the Browns 4 points.
– Kenny Britt caught a pair of passes for 52 yards – the second went for 38 to help set up the Browns’ lone touchdown of the afternoon. Crowell converted on fourth-and-1 to keep the 15-play drive alive and Kizer called his own number on fourth-and-goal from the 3 to pull the Browns within 23-16 with 6:57 to play.
– The Bengals wasted no time answering the Browns’ opening salvo with a 9-play, 75 yard drive of their own that quarterback Andy Dalton capped with an 8-yard TD strike off of play action to receiver Tyler Boyd for a 7-3 advantage with 5:08 to play in the opening quarter. Running back Joe Mixon carried 3 times for 29 yards, including a 19-yarder and Giovani Bernard added an 11-yard burst to set up the score.
– Cincinnati entered the game averaging 68 yards per game on the ground and they surpassed that in 2 drives. The Bengals finished with 152 yards rushing and Mixon had 114 of them marking the second straight week the defense allowed a 100-yard runner after going the previous 9 without allowing 1.
– Receiver Bryce Treggs blew up Cleveland’s second drive of the day by getting flagged for taunting after Crowell lost a yard on a run to the 21 forcing a second-and-26 from the 36. Gonzalez would be called upon for his second kick of the day but his 43-yard attempt was wide-left with 0:09 left in the first quarter to keep it a 7-3 game.
– Gonzalez was forced into punting duty after Britton Colquitt was shaken up during the Adam Jones’ return that got called back. His first kick didn’t go well, just 16 yards. Colquitt, who got hit hard by Bengals cornerback William Jackson, was evaluated for a concussion. Despite a 36-yard screen pass to Mixon, the Browns defense held the Bengals to another field goal – 21 yards – to trail 16-3 with 2:09 left in the second quarter. Colquitt was cleared and held on Gonzalez’s 21-yard field goal as time expired to end the half.
– The end of the first half continues to be an adventure for the Browns but they at least came away with 3 points. With 20 seconds left in the half Kizer threw a short 8-yard pass to Coleman, who was tackled at the 3. They at least got set fast enough to kill the clock with 5 seconds left but any competent offense should’ve been able to take multiple shots into the endzone in 20 seconds.
– Cornerback Jason McCourty, who has had a fantastic season, was flagged for a pass interference in the endzone giving Cincinnati a fresh set of downs from the 1 on the opening possession of the second half. Dalton quickly turned the new life into 7 by finding tight end Tyler Kroft for 1-yard TD and a 23-6 lead. Kroft had 3 TDs against the Browns this season.
– Receiver Corey Coleman dropped a would-be 29-yard touchdown pass in the endzone on a beautiful ball from Kizer that hit him right in the hands with just under 5 minutes left in the third quarter. The drop, which came on a second-and-20, led to Gonzalez’s third field goal – a 39-yarder – to trim the Bengals advantage to 23-9.
– Cornerback Brien Boddy-Calhoun was unable to reel in an errant Dalton pass with 14:17 left in the fourth quarter for an interception after Garrett applied the pressure. Another missed opportunity to make a big play.
– Jabrill Peppers’ personal foul for drilling Bengals receiver Josh Malone and separating him from the football on a throw to the near sideline cost the Browns 15 yards and set up the game-clinching TD run by Mixon – 11 yards. At first glance it appeared to be a helmet to helmet hit but replays showed Peppers drilled Malone with a combination of his helmet and shoulder in the neck and jaw area with his forearm making contact with his chest, which is an automatic foul. Big hit, costly penalty.
– The 1-26 start for Hue Jackson as head coach ties him with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach John McKay (1976-77) for the worst 27-game start with an NFL team in league history. Since the start of the 2016 season, of the 26 losses, 17 have been by double digits (10 in 2016, 7 so far this season with 5 games to go).