The narrative of Cincinnati's 41-20 win is that the defense and special teams were tasked with picking up the Bengals offense, who continues to struggle correcting the mistakes that continuously holds them back. Cleveland had generated a 13-point advantage following Joe Haden's 29-yard interception late in the first quarter. On the first play of Cincinnati's ensuing possession, Dalton's pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage, Jermaine Gresham dropped a pass and the Bengals conceded a third and 20 with a checkdown to Giovani Bernard.
Five possessions, two turnovers, three punts, dropped passes, penalties; it was leading towards disaster.
Before the first quarter even concluded, Dalton had only completed three of eight passes for 22 yards (14 on the checkdown to Bernard) with two interceptions and a passer rating of 6.2. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard combined for eight rushes on five carries for a 1.6 yard/rush average. As a whole, the offense had no first downs in the game's first 15 minutes and only 30 yards of total offense.
Hope was frayed. Optimism was a bucket list item. Week four's loss to Cleveland was being replayed.
That's when the defense and special teams took over, having a hand in every point scored during Cincinnati's record-setting second quarter.
The James Harrison interception leads to a touchdown (7 points).
With 56 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Browns have first down from their own 20-yard line. Browns quarterback Jason Campbell weakly shows play-action and flips around directly at Josh Gordon.
Defensive end Michael Johnson bit on the play-action and stalled his initial pass rush. This inadvertently kept Johnson in Campbell's passing lane.
Johnson deflected the football and James Harrison juggles the pass for an interception -- but his manly touchdown was called back on Brandon Thompson's illegal block. Two plays later, Dalton completes the 25-yard touchdown pass, taking a bite into Cleveland's 13-point lead.
"I felt that once the offense went out there and scored a touchdown that was a big momentum swing for us. We were able to really build on top of that and push it all the way through," Harrison said via Bengals.com.
Shawn Williams partial punt block leads to a touchdown (14 total).
Cleveland's ensuing possession goes three and out (more marks for the defense) and the Browns are forced to punt from their own 29-yard line. Rookie safety Shawn Williams exploded through the middle and tipped the football with his hands fully extended (sorry for the blurriness).
"There was no secret formula to what we did," said Williams after the game, via Bengals.com. "We went in with the mentality if one guy can get free and make a block, that changes the momentum of the game and not wait for somebody to make something happen. It was one skilled guy against a lesser skilled guy and I just beat him up the field with a rush."
After the football rolled nine yards, the offense strung together a five-play, 38-yard touchdown drive, capped by Mohamed Sanu's six-yard touchdown reception with 11:56 remaining in the second quarter.
Jayson DiManche's punt block and Tony Dye's touchdown return (21 points).
Both teams exchanged three-and-out possessions. Cleveland begins moving the football from their own 10-yard line but the possession stalled at the Browns 47-yard line with 4:49 remaining in the second. Browns punter Spenser Lanning set up for the punt. Rookie linebacker Jayson DiManche took a bee-line to the punter and blocked the kick with his left hand.
Dye, recently promoted to the 53-man roster on Saturday, recovered the football and sprinted 24 yards for the touchdown.
"We knew they were a little slower than some of the punters we faced. We knew we had the opportunity to get back there," DiManche said. "(Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons) sees everything. He noticed that and we took advantage of it. I came from the outside, up and under. Every team does it. Darrin moves us around all over to get confusion on the punt team. It was a great call … fake to the outside and come up and under."
Vontaze Burfict's fumble return for a touchdown (28 points).
It was innocent enough. An offensive hold, a Michael Johnson offsides and Chris Ogbonnaya two-yard run led to a second and 13 from the Browns 17-yard line with 2:55 remaining in the second quarter. Captain Checkdown, Jason Campbell, looked downfield but led Ogbonnaya out of the backfield.
Burfict sized up Cleveland's running back.
The linebacker lowered his right shoulder into Ogbonnaya, springing the football free. Almost as if he had planned the entire outcome, Burfict tracked down the football, scooped it up and returned it 13 yards for the touchdown, giving Cincinnati a 28-13 lead.
Adam Jones 27-yard punt return leads to a field goal (31 points).
With 34 seconds remaining in the first half and the Browns punting the football, it was unlikely that Cincinnati's defense would need Adam Jones again before half time. So the team sends Jones on punt return duties to spark a last-second score.
After returning the punt 27 yards to the Browns 32-yard line, with a nice nine-yard reception by Marvin Jones, Mike Nugent converts the 41-yard field goal with one second remaining in the first half.
"It's always about field position and momentum. Things didn't start out the way we wanted. When you get opportunities to make plays, these guys can help change that," Simmons said after the game. "You can see it ignites the team and the crowd. You get plays from guys you don't expect."