Baker Mayfield amassed a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in the first half with 7 of 8 passing for 121 yards, including a 60-yard bomb for a TD to Donovan Peoples-Jones. (Cleveland Browns)
OBJ-less Browns rout Bengals, 41-16, to stay in division race
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Instant takeaways from Browns' 41-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals …
1. Déjà vu: He did it again. With his back shackled to the wall, Baker Mayfield redeemed himself again with Odell Beckham Jr. out of the way and produced a game to save the Browns’ playoff hopes. Kevin Stefanski kept pouring it on the demoralized Bengals rather than sitting on the ball and added a touchdown to David Njoku with 4:27 to go to make it Browns 41, Bengals 16. Mayfield pitched a perfect 158.3 rating the first half and played off two defensive turnovers and Nick Chubb to build a 24-10 halftime lead. Another defensive turnover and a Chubb 70-yard TD run in the second half turned the game into an unforeseen rout. Mayfield (14 of 21, 218 yards, 2 TD, 132.6 rating) was lifted with 3:19 to play. Cornerback Troy Hill had three of the five sacks of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who was removed with 4 ½ minutes to go. By virtue of the head-to-head win, the Browns (5-4) inched ahead of the Bengals (5-4) in the congested AFC North standings. The Ravens (5-2) were in overtime against the Vikings when the Browns game ended.
2. Bam! Pow! Whoosh!: Hard to believe venerable line coach Bill Callahan could draw up a run play any better than Chubb’s 70-yard TD jaunt in the third quarter. Right guard Wyatt Teller pulled the left and flattened a Bengals defender. Chubb blasted through the hole Wyatt created and then hit that extra gear that belies Chubb’s size. He separated from a couple of players chasing him on the way to the end zone. Chubb’s day ended midway through the fourth quarter with 137 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.
3. Chase struggles: Runaway offensive rookie-of-the-year favorite Ja’Marr Chase had a terrible game. In the first half, Chase was involved in two offensive turnovers that resulted in 10 points for the Browns. Chase was the intended receiver on Denzel Ward’s 99-yard Pick 6. The pass was behind Chase, but his fall at the goal line gave Ward a great jumpstart on his long return. In the second quarter, Chase lost the ball after a catch on a hit by safety John Johnson. The ball was recovered by cornerback A.J. Green, resulting in a short field goal. Chase’s troubles continued in the third quarter when a Burrow pass for him was deflected by closely-covered Denzel Ward and intercepted by Johnson. That led to another short field goal. Still more: At the end of the third quarter, a perfect Burrow pass from the 23-yard line whistled through Chase’s hands in the end zone with Greg Newsome in coverage but beat by a split-second. Wait, there's more: In the fourth quarter, Chase beat Newsome deep. Alas, a potential 77-yard touchdown was blown when Chase dropped the ball. When Chase finally secured a 32-yard reception later, it was nullified by a Bengals holding penalty. Welp.
4. How to lie with statistics: At halftime, the Bengals had huge advantages in plays run (42 to 15) and time of possession (22:04 to 7:56). But the scoreboard read Browns 24, Bengals 10.
5. What Would OBJ Do?: Two pass completions by Mayfield made you wonder if they would have been made if Odell Beckham Jr. were the intended receiver. The first was a perfectly thrown bomb to Donovan Peoples-Jones, who ran past cornerback Eli Apple and made the catch for a 60-yard touchdown. After this pass, Mayfield held a pose for a moment, as if to say, "See?", before celebrating with a fist to the air. The second was on the very next Browns possession when Mayfield fired to rookie Anthony Schwartz crossing the middle of the field for a 15-yard gain.
6. Yikes: The Browns had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin because of some strange play-calling by Stefanski. The offense had third-and-1 from the Bengals 4. Jarvis Landry motioned into the backfield and was given the ball on a handoff. Landry took a few strides to his left and then pitched the ball back to a trailing Chubb. The ball hit the ground and Chubb was pummeled for a loss back to the 10. It was officially scored as a Landry fumble.
7. When in doubt: Stefanski’s early offensive plan was to feature Chubb. Good choice. The Browns broke a 7-7 tie in the second quarter on a 75-yard drive that featured Chubb for five of the nine plays. Chubb ran the ball three times for 34 yards and had two receptions for 26 yards. He scored the TD on a 1-yard plunge over center.
8. Error rewarded: Burrow took the Bengals down to the Browns’ 7 on his first possession, then was sacked on third down by Myles Garrett. But Malik McDowell was whistled for offsides and Burrow got another third-down chance, this time at the Browns’ 3. His pass behind Chase was intercepted by Ward, who took it 99 yards to the house for a Pick 6. Ward punctuated the long return with an inside move on Burrow that sent the quarterback flailing to the ground. It was Burrow’s 10th interception of the season, the second returned for a touchdown. Ward’s first Pick 6 of his NFL career came against the Bengals in 2019.
9. Oxygen, please: Burrow went right back to work and extended the Browns’ defense on another long drive. The early workload seemed to be taxing the Browns early. On a key third-and-7 play, Bengals back Samaje Perine fought through linebacker Anthony Walker’s tackle for a first down. Then on the scoring play, cornerback Troy Hill made a feeble tackle attempt from his knees as Joe Mixon sidestepped him easily en route to an 11-yard TD run on a toss play. At that point, the Browns’ defense had been on the field for the entire 10 minutes, 50 seconds of the first quarter.
10. Pre-game notes: Several players listed as questionable were made active, notably cornerback Denzel Ward, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and tight end Harrison Bryant. Odell Beckham Jr. technically is still on the Browns’ roster until he is formally waived on Monday, which means he had to be made inactive. Donovan Peoples-Jones took his place in the starting lineup. Also, defensive tackle Sheldon Day was made active ahead of run-stopper Andrew Billings, the ex-Bengal.