Bengals hand winless Browns 11th loss
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals’ running game has been dormant for much of the season. But it came to life on Sunday afternoon, just in time to keep the Cleveland Browns winless.
Rookie Joe Mixon rushed for a career-high 114 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown, and Andy Dalton passed for 214 yards and two touchdowns, lifting Cincinnati to a 30-16 victory over its in-state rival at Paul Brown Stadium.
“We keep building week by week and getting the timing right,” Mixon said. “We’ve got big expectations. I’m disappointed when I don’t meet them. It’s just trusting and believing in what we do.”
Cincinnati (5-6) rushed for a season-high 152 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, to help keep its slim playoff hopes alive. The Bengals were averaging 3.0 yards coming in.
“The line up front played really well, and Joe (Mixon) obviously was running the ball really hard,” Dalton said. “This is the expectation now. We have to come out and prove it each week.”
Sunday’s game wasn’t without some nervous moments.
The Browns were within a touchdown and appeared to have the Bengals stopped on third-and-5 with less than four minutes remaining in the game when Dalton’s pass to Josh Malone fell incomplete on the sideline after a hard hit by safety Jabrill Peppers.
Peppers made helmet-to-helmet contact with Malone and was flagged for hitting a defenseless receiver. Mixon scored on an 11-yard run to seal the victory moments later.
“I tried to keep it out of the head and neck area,” Peppers said. “I’d like to have that play back and go lower. It was a bang-bang play. I can’t be mad at (officials), their job is to throw the flag whenever there’s any doubt. That was a crucial play in this game.”
Isaiah Crowell rushed for 95 yards and DeShone Kizer had his best game statistically, passing for 268 yards and rushing for 39 and a touchdown for Cleveland.
The Bengals’ pass rush produced four sacks and 11 quarterback hits.
“Defensively, we had some plays that will be interesting to see where our breakdowns were, particularly in the running game,” head coach Marvin Lewis said.
The mistake-prone Browns (0-11) had a pair of drive-stalling penalties in the first half and a dropped touchdown pass by Corey Coleman in the end zone in the third quarter.
After a 15-yard penalty on Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict for a hit on a receiver helped extend the Browns’ drive on their first possession, Cleveland had first-and-goal at the 8. But, the Browns settled for a 27-yard field goal by Zane Gonzalez to cap an 11-play, 66-yard drive after an offensive pass interference penalty on tight end David Njoku.
On the Browns’ second drive, a taunting penalty on wide receiver Bryce Treggs set them back, and Gonzalez missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt, wasting a 44-yard pass from Kizer to Coleman.
Cincinnati had a 75-yard scoring drive in the first quarter, taking a 7-3 lead on Tyler Boyd’s 8-yard touchdown catch, his first of the year. The Bengals rushed for 43 yards on the drive, averaging 8.6 yards per carry.
The Bengals weren’t immune to mistakes on Sunday.
Adam Jones had a 55-yard punt return for an apparent touchdown negated when backup tight end Cethan Carter was flagged for a block in the back.
Randy Bullock kicked field goals of 21, 31, and 49 yards in the first half, and a 1-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to tight end Tyler Kroft in the third made the score 23-6.
“We did some good things offensively,” Lewis said. “The only thing we failed to do a couple times was put the ball in the end zone and took field goals (instead). But the plan, I think the guys did a nice job of executing it.”
Cleveland cut its deficit to 23-16 on Kizer’s 3-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal with seven minutes remaining, but couldn’t complete the rally.
The loss dropped head coach Hue Jackson’s record in Cleveland to 1-26 since leaving his post as offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. The call on Peppers only amplified his frustration.
“It doesn’t seem like we’ve had favorable calls go our way this year,” Jackson said. “I’ve been saying this for weeks: we continue to fight. That gives us a chance. Usually it’s five or six plays that determine the outcome.”
NOTES: Browns QB DeShone Kizer briefly left the game in the second quarter and was evaluated for a concussion. Cody Kessler replaced him for one series, but Kizer was cleared to return. ... The last team to go winless in a 16-game schedule was the 2008 Detroit Lions. ... Bengals LB Nick Vigil twice left the game with an injured ankle before being declared out in the third quarter. ... The Bengals lead the all-time series 50-39, including six straight wins and 21 of 27.