For the first time in nearly three years, the Cincinnati Bengals have defeated the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals came out with a 23-10 victory over their divisional rival and Deshaun Watson, who made his second start of his season following an 11-game suspension.
Joe Mixon came back with a vengeance after missing two-and-a-half games with a concussion, running for 96 yards on 14 carries. Ja’Marr Chase carried a passing game without starters Hayden Hurst, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, as the second-year wideout had 119 of the offense’s 239 receiving yards on the day.
The play on the field early on reflected Cincinnati’s injuries on offense. While the Bengals produced a three-and-out on their first possession, the Browns had two first downs on their first two plays. A DJ Reader stop on third-and-one prompted the Browns to take Watson off the field, audible out of a Jacoby Brissett quarterback sneak, and fail to convert the fourth down through the air.
That was the closest either team got to score in the first quarter. There were nearly as many punts (four) as there were first downs (five) as the Bengals got a total of three snaps from both Boyd and Higgins. The Bengals’ first seven first downs came from Browns penalties, and Joe Burrow rushes. Four penalties for the visiting team occurred on the first drive of the second period. The Bengals moved into scoring range thanks to a roughing the punter flag, and three other infractions by Cleveland.
Thankfully, the Bengals still had Chase, who was responsible for 36 of Burrow’s first 46 yards of the game. 15 of them came on an insane tight window throw and catch in the end zone of the game’s first points.
Reader and the defense came up big on the Browns’ next drive as the stud nose tackle batted down a Watson pass at the line to force a short field goal that got Cleveland on the scoreboard. The Bengals held Chubb and the Browns to just 3.1 yards per carry during the first two quarters, and 2.8 for the entire day.
Cincinnati’s passing game began finding some rhythm in the final minutes of the first half, and it was nearly stifled after an incredible toe-drag grab by Trent Taylor was ruled incomplete upon review. Burrow went right back to Taylor the next play for a 34-yard gain, the longest of Taylor’s career. Trenton Irwin got involved the following third down and executed a perfect scramble drill with Burrow to move the chains.
That play got the Bengals inside the 10-yard line, wherein Samaje Perine played to the whistle and left the Browns bamboozled for his second rushing touchdown of the season.
The Browns’ Hail Mary wasn’t answered at the conclusion of the half and went three-and-out to open the second half, and the Bengals punted the ball right back after posting two first downs on the drive and a third was eliminated thanks to an illegal man downfield flag on Jonah Williams. The Bengals’ left tackle had been handling Myles Garrett well up to this point, but the star edge rusher got a sack on Burrow the very next play and batted down his second screen pass of the day.
Following the Bengals’ second sack on Watson, Burrow and the offense injected some fun into an ugly game. Zac Taylor called for a flea flicker out of shotgun, and Irwin got well behind the Browns’ secondary for a 45-yard touchdown, the second of Irwin’s season and career.
Just look at the DOTS!
Here are the dots on that flea flicker TD from Joe Burrow to Joe Mixon to Joe Burrow to Trent Irwin. pic.twitter.com/yKFeaRIAOG— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) December 11, 2022
Cleveland needed a response down three scores, and they eventually got it with David Njoku. The Browns’ tight end closed out a 10-play drive with three straight receptions, one being a fourth-and-five conversion, and another being a touchdown, bringing the score to 20-10. Big plays from Mixon and Chase on the ensuing drive helped the Bengals increase the lead to 23-10 thanks to a 30-yard field goal from Evan McPherson.
It was starting to feel like Watson was returning to his old form, but Jessie Bates III put a brief stop to the momentum. Bates read Watson’s eyes on a first-and-10 pass and came away with his third interception of the season.
The Bengals had a prime chance to put the game away, but Jadeveon Clowney tipped a Joe Burrow pass at the line, and Deion Jones intercepted it behind him. It was Burrow’s 25th batted pass of the season, and seventh interception against AFC North opponents. With the door still open for a Browns comeback, Watson engineered a 15-play drive that featured two fourth down conversions, but they couldn’t convert the third. Rookie cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt’s coverage took the Browns off the field right next to the end zone.
Cleveland still very much had a chance with four minutes remaining and down two scores, but Taylor-Britt once again was in on a failed fourth down pass from Watson, giving the Bengals the ball back for good.
It wasn’t the cleanest day for Joe Burrow, who finished with 239 yards and two touchdowns on 18-33 passing, but the Bengals’ franchise quarterback netted his first victory over the Browns and moved Cincinnati to 9-4 on the year.
The Bengals have also now won two-straight games vs. Watson after that 2020 thriller when he was still with the Houston Texans and lost at home to the Brandon Allen-led Bengals.
Up next is a road game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.