The Bengals scored their first sweep of the Browns since 2011 with a 37-3 win in Cleveland.
It was a game Cincinnati thoroughly dominated in every facet as they jumped out to a quick lead and never let off the gas as they ran over Cleveland for the third-straight time. Here are four thoughts from this win that puts the Bengals at 10-2 heading into the final four games of the season.
1. Reggie Nelson is playing at an MVP level
You could make a strong case for Reggie Nelson being the Bengals' MVP over the past month. The 32-year-old has gotten better as the season has wore on and is all over the field making plays against the pass and run.
On Cleveland's first drive, Nelson made a big tackle for loss that put the Browns behind the sticks and helped force them to punt three plays later, after they were in Bengals territory and in position to score the game's first points.
Browns with 1st-10 from Cin-42 with 9:12 remaining. Reggie Nelson coming off the edge. https://t.co/XOJEJZvX98— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 6, 2015
Nelson would snuff out another Browns scoring opportunity as he intercepted Austin Davis at the Cincinnati 42-yard line, which he returned for 31 yards.
Reggie Nelson with another interception (his seventh on the season). Shesh. https://t.co/DIubnbdFM8— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 6, 2015
That led to a Bengals field goal and a 20-0 lead. That was also Nelson's fourth-straight game with a pick, giving him an NFL-high seven for the season.
All of this comes in a contract year for Nelson, who may end up being the No. 1 free agent safety come March. Nelson certainly picked the right time to find the fountain of youth. The way Nelson is playing right now, there's no excuse for him not being in the Pro Bowl, and at this rate, he could find himself on one of the NFL All-Pro teams when the season ends.
2. Big Peko is making a bigger impact
Speaking of the fountain of youth, how about Domata Peko? Never in the 10th-year pro's career had Peko finished a season with more than three sacks. He's simply been a run-stuffer that has rarely gotten any kind of pressure consistently on quarterbacks, but that's changed this season.
Peko notched his career-high fourth sack of the season in Cleveland as he burst through the line and took down Austin Davis.
Domata Peko with a sack, dance and an assist in stalling Browns drive. https://t.co/wZa47kraDu— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) December 6, 2015
That came in the midst of a promising Browns drive and helped force a field goal two plays later that was blocked. I'll be the first to admit, prior to the season, I was not a fan of keeping Peko this season as he wasn't playing to the level of his $5.9-millions cap hit in 2014 and $3.75-million cap hit this season. I was badly mistaken as Peko has more than earned that money this year, while giving fans an awesome belly dance to watch after each sack.
He's also a big reason why the run defense is becoming one of the better units in the NFL, and they allowed just 68 rushing yards to the Browns in this win. It's time Peko starts getting more credit for the Bengals' defensive success this season.
3. The cornerback position is now a major concern
The Bengals came into this game so depleted at cornerback that fourth-round rookie Josh Shaw opened the game as the primary slot corner with Leon Hall sitting out with a back injury. The good news was Shaw played well for much of the first half and didn't give up any big plays.
The bad news is, Shaw suffered a scary injury on a big hit toward the end of the half as his head went right into the shoulder of a launching Shawn Williams. It looked initially like it might be a concussion as Shaw laid on the ground while trainers attended to him, but he eventually walked off the field and back into the locker room.
The team later announced it as a back injury, but called Shaw's return questionable, which was then downgraded to doubtful and he never returned to the game. As healthy as the Bengals have been for much of this season, they're now getting brutalized at corner with just about every guy on the roster at the position banged up.
It's scary to think what this position could look like next week when the explosive Steelers' offense comes to town. But, hopefully Hall was just playing it safe and will return next week.
4. The Bengals are dominating the Battle of Ohio
The Battle of Ohio has now become the Rout of Ohio. For the third-straight game, the Bengals routed the Browns and have now won by a combined 98-13 margin over the past three meetings, including a 67-3 margin in Cleveland.
The Bengals have now won 16 of their past 22 meetings with the Browns, which began with a 58-48 win in 2004. Marvin Lewis lost two of his first three games vs the Browns, but now is 18-8 against them. This win marked the 11th time during that span the Bengals have won by two-plus scores and the fourth time in the past five meetings Cincinnati won by at least three touchdowns.
Yeah, this is a rivalry in which the team down south is dominating the team up north.