Baker Mayfield must have woken up feeling dangerous, because he was nearly unstoppable in Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday in the first half of the Battle of Ohio.
The Bengals went into Sunday’s game against the Browns hoping to turn their season around against a team they have defeated in each of their last seven matchups. The Browns came into Cincinnati with a 25-game losing streak on the road. But the Browns threw the records out the window and dominated the Bengals starting at kickoff.
The Browns beat up on the Bengals and though Jeff Driskel tried to play hero in the second half, he fell short. The Bengals fell to the Browns 35-20.
Mayfield started out six-for-six and finished the game 19 for 26 with 258 yards and four touchdowns. His Bengals counterpart would leave the game with only 100 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in about one half of football. Andy Dalton left the game early in the third quarter with a thumb injury, and Driskel took over under center. Driskel would end the game with 17 completions on 29 attempts with 155 yards and two total touchdowns on the day.
Joe Mixon would start off with negative one yard on five carries, but would end the game with a much better stat line. He carried the ball 14 times for 89 yards.
As decent as the offense looked, most of the production came in the second half when the Bengals were already trailing by multiple scores.
The Browns got off to a hot start with a 23-yard screen pass to Nick Chubb on the first play of the game, and the Browns were in Bengals’ territory within two plays. The Browns only faced one third down and converted it easily on their way down the field. Chubb powered the ball in from the one-yard line to finish off the drive with 9:11 to go in the first quarter. After the extra point from Greg Joseph the Browns jumped out to a 7-0 lead. Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield went six-for-six with 71 yards on the drive.
On the Bengals’ first drive of the game, Dalton threw a strike to Ross for 17 yards to get the offense going. Dalton connected on all of his first five passes for 54 yards, including a short pass to Joe Mixon on fourth-and-one to extend the drive. But a negative run from Mixon and a holding penalty stalled the drive, so Randy Bullock came in for a 54-yard field goal attempt. The kick was blocked, so the offense had no points to show for their hot start.
Mayfield started the next drive as dangerously as the one prior, completing three passes in a row for 51 yards. The rookie quarterback connected with rookie receiver Antonio Calloway for a 13-yard score on the four-play drive. The extra point was good, and with 1:37 left in the first quarter, the Bengals were quickly behind 14-0 to their in-state rivals.
The Bengals were forced to punt, but a penalty caused the Browns start on their own four-yard line. Mayfield would not be deterred, however, and took the Browns from the shadow of their end zone to plus territory with ease. Mayfield went five for eight on the 60-yard drive and tight end David Njoku received 51 of those yards. On the final play of the drive, Mayfield threw a short pass to Njoku, who was several yards short of the end zone but dove through the air anyways. He was held up in the air and magically pushed the rest of the way to the end zone for a ridiculous touchdown. The extra point was good, and the Browns were quickly running up the score, 21-0 with 9:27 remaining in the half.
The Browns immediately got the ball back after a Dalton interception to Damarious Randall — you know, the one who said the Bengals were going to get their ass kicked without A.J. Green. (And then handed his interception ball to none other than Hue Jackson!!) Mayfield continued to look like Drew Brees and move the offense down the field with ease. The Bengals got a stop on third down for the first time in the game with four minutes left in the first half. That barely slowed down Cleveland’s offense, who converted it with Chubb running up the middle and getting past the line by the nose of the football. After converting on the fourth down attempt, Mayfield threw up a fade to Chubb, who fought against the defender to bring the ball down for the score. Even though the safety Brandon Wilson did a good job to try to knock the ball away, Chubb’s strong hands were too much, and the Browns were suddenly up 28-0 with 2:25 left after the extra point.
With all three timeouts left, the Bengals’ rushing game, which netted negative one yard up to this point, got the ball into the red zone. Dalton scrambled for 21 yards, and Mixon followed up that run with a 32-yard rush of his own. The Bengals got to third-and-goal from the two, and Dalton threw a dart to Ross, who was in the soft part of the zone defense for the score. With that touchdown, Dalton moved to second place in franchise history in touchdown passes, passing Boomer Esiason’s mark. Bullock’s extra point was good, and the Bengals finally got the goose egg off the board, although with 32 seconds left in the half the game still felt remarkably out of reach. The Bengals were trailing 28-7, which would be the score at halftime. Note: the Browns did not score within the two minute warning, which was a mini victory for the Bengals.
Things quickly spiraled out of control coming out of the gate in the second half, as if the game wasn’t already out of control. Rookie center Billy Price sent the snap over Dalton’s head, and Browns defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah dove on the ball at the seven-yard line. Mayfield quickly found Darren Fells in the back corner of the end zone to get the score up to 35-7 after the extra point with 12:56 left in the third quarter.
But even worse, Dalton injured his right thumb on the fumble, so Jeff Driskel checked in at quarterback on the next drive. He went 0-2 on the three-play first drive, but did much better on his second drive. Driskel hit all five of his passes for 52 yards, connecting with Tyler Boyd for a 28-yard score with 5:02 left in the third quarter. The touchdown to Boyd was the first touchdown pass of Driskel’s career. With the extra point, the Bengals were trailing by only 21 points, down 35-14.
Driskel led another scoring drive after the Browns punted. Boyd had 25 yards on the drive, and Mixon carried most of the workload with 36 total yards on the drive. The drive was extended by a roughing the passer penalty when the Bengals went for it on fourth-and-22. After getting to the red zone, Driskel powered his way into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the season, his second total touchdown of the game with 7:57 left in the game. Bullock missed the extra point, so the score would be 35-20.
The Bengals forced anther punt, and Driskel turned up the heat again. The Bengals marched down the field thanks to big catches from Giovani Bernard and Auden Tate. Despite three false start penalties, the Bengals made it all the way to the Browns’ 14-yard line. The Bengals would turn the ball over on downs there with two timeouts remaining and the two-minute warning to help them stop the clock.
The comeback attempt was basically over though, and the Bengals embarrassingly lost to the Browns in a game that could (just maybe) have a major impact on the future of the Bengals’ organization.