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Browns at Bengals: 4 winners and 9 losers in Cincinnati’s 35-20 loss to Cleveland

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It was a dreary day in Cincinnati during the first go-round of the 2018 “Battle of Ohio”. Unfortunately, it was a foreshadowing of things to come from the home team.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

As Thanksgiving disappeared in the rearview mirror, winter weather began to be ushered in to The Queen City. Unfortunately, the gray afternoon was indicative of how the Cincinnati Bengals would play on their home turf versus the Cleveland Browns.

Here are the best and worst from the team in their 35-20 loss to their bitter cross-state rivals.

Winners:

John Ross: The second-year wide receiver found pay dirt once again, which was for the fifth time this season. He also was open for another would-be deep touchdown, but Andy Dalton somehow overthrew the fastest guy in the league.

There have been complaints about Ross being inconsistent this year, but he still has yet to play in 16 games as a pro. There are dry spells with No. 15, as has been the case with the entire offense, but there are also flashes from the former ninth-overall pick surfacing as the year progresses.

He did have one easy drop on the day, but came up with three catches for 31 yards and score. The stat line would have been much different had Dalton hit him on that deep ball.

Jeff Driskel: It’s never easy to come in relief for a starting quarterback, but Driskel excelled in mop-up duty. He finished 17-of-29 for 155 yards, with two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing).

The backup signal-caller threw a number of darts, including a 22-yard strike to Tyler Boyd on a first-and-15. And, just when the game officially seemed over, Driskel drew a big personal foul penalty on a fourth-and-22 and capped the drive with a touchdown run to get the game to 35-20.

What’s more, Driskel continued to bail the Bengals out of terrible situations because of penalties. Time and time again, Driskel made plays in long-yardage to-go situations.

Joe Mixon: One of the only players who seemed to have showed up for the Bengals on Sunday was the second-year back. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor finally dialed up a lot of plays to Mixon and he responded with 89 yards rushing and another 66 receiving.

More so than that, Mixon was one of the few players who played with high effort all day. One such instance was his pushing of Driskel into the end zone on a fourth quarter rush for a touchdown.

Alex Erickson: Though he isn’t having a direct impact on the offense, Erickson has been aiding them greatly on special teams. Erickson averaged 19 yards on his three punt returns, as well as 24.5 yards on kickoffs. He had a 35-yard punt return at the end of the game, which was just one of four outstanding returns on the day.

Losers:

Cody Core: Last week’s goat failed to make an impact on offense again this week (just one catch), as he was part of a miscommunication with Andy Dalton on a critical second quarter interception. However, he has hung on to a roster spot because of his supposed special teams ability.

After Cleveland marched down the field for an opening drive score, Alex Erickson pumped some life into the Bengals with a 35-yard kickoff return. However, Core was flagged for a hold (there was another personal foul accepted on the play), calling his roster worth further into question.

Randy Bullock: Simply put, the Bengals can’t trust their kicker to make an attempt over 49 yards. Bullock had a 54-yard attempt blocked on the Bengals’ first drive, making him 1-of-4 from 50 or more yards this season. He also missed a critical extra point when the Bengals were trying to mount an unlikely comeback in the fourth quarter.

In a rough-and-tumble division with poor weather being part of the late-season setting, all AFC North teams need kickers to be able to make these kind of kicks with some form of consistency.

Marvin Lewis: The team’s head coach put his reputation on the line with the hiring and subsequent firing of Teryl Austin. He really put himself out there by taking over the defensive play-calling duties.

The result in two games? Baltimore’s netting of 265 rushing yards and the unit making Baker Mayfield looking like a 10-year veteran. It was also very... um... “creative” of Lewis to drop Geno Atkins into zone coverage twice in the first half.

Lewis is also a maestro of getting opposing teams off the schneid. In back-to-back weeks, rookie quarterbacks excelled against the Bengals, while Cleveland got their first opening drive touchdown of the year, as well as their first road win in over two seasons.

Even when the team mounted a mini-comeback, penalties became the theme of the afternoon. Driskel had to fight through most of the 13 flags on the day and put up an admirable fight, but it was yet another wart on the day’s performance.

The worst part of what we witnessed on Sunday wasn’t in the lack of talent, or in the stars on the bench. It was in the lack of effort shown by players—particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Is it safe to say that Lewis has lost this locker room?

Vontaze Burfict: Cincinnati moved Burfict to the middle on Sunday, but it didn’t make much of a difference. Mayfield had his way with the defensive unit with No. 55 seeming to be an uncharacteristic step behind of most plays.

He also had a killer holding penalty to wipe out a would-be sack from Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. At this point, he’s mostly known for getting into on-field trouble and pleading with the refs to throw a flag the other way.

While he’s simply a microcosm of the defense’s struggles, he’s one of the biggest names with a track record of previous success. Effort on that side of the ball has to be called into question, as does Burfict’s long-term viability with this kind of play after missing another six games this year from injury and a suspension.

Hue Jackson: Aside from potentially being groomed to be Lewis’ successor, Jackson was brought to Cincinnati as both a quasi-defensive coordinator and a spy, of sorts, for the two games against Cleveland that remained on the schedule. At home and supposedly seeking revenge, Jackson’s old team gave him a bitter pill to swallow.

The defense he was supposedly co-heading with Lewis was an absolute embarrassment, allowing Cincinnati to get trounced on its home field. Is this the guy Mike Brown truly trusts going forward?

Oh, and if you’re wondering how the Browns players are taking Jackson’s firing:

Billy Price: While there may still be a little bit of rust with Price at the moment because of his missing of time with an injury, there’s little excuse for missing critical blocks. With the Bengals still trying to cling to life in the first half, Price missed two critical blocks on run plays stifling Joe Mixon for a combined minus-eight yards.

He also had a block-in-the-back penalty on the final drive before halftime, as well as an errant snap that resulted in a crushing third quarter turnover and injury to Dalton. Throw in an errant snap penalty and it was a day to forget from the rookie center. With how Trey Hopkins played in his stead, as well as the up-and-down play of Alex Redmond at right guard, one has to wonder if a change of some kind has to occur up front.

Cedric Ogbuehi: I realize that Ogbuehi is the team’s third offensive tackle at this point and he was thrown out there against Myles Garrett, but he still showed that he can’t be relied upon for significant roles. He allowed a sack by Garrett and was flagged for an important false start on one of the team’s last possessions of the game.

Carlos Dunlap: It’s been three weeks since Dunlap has had a sack, while the impact plays have been minimal. The Bengals’ defense has greatly struggled—especially lately—so, it’s no surprise that it has coincided with the disappearance of No. 96.

Geno Atkins: Like Dunlap, Atkins was awarded with a huge extension this offseason. Both guys got off to hot starts, but have cooled down greatly.

In the last six games, Atkins has just one sack, while the Bengals are 1-5 in the span (it didn’t help that he was in coverage at times on Sunday). As he and Dunlap go, so do the Bengals’ on defense and neither have had any kind of impact lately.