CINCINNATI – The Cleveland Browns did exactly what they said they would do to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Browns safety Jabrill Peppers told reporters on Friday that it wouldn’t matter that their former head coach Hue Jackson would be on the sidelines for the Bengals on Sunday. “Wish him well, but we’re still going to go out there and kick their (rear ends),’’ Peppers said.
Also Friday, Browns safety Damarious Randall said if A.J. Green couldn’t play for the Bengals on Sunday, “they’re getting their (rear ends) beat."
Green didn’t play, and that’s just what happened.
The Browns took mockery to a new level when Randall intercepted an Andy Dalton pass in the second quarter, then handed the ball to Jackson, who smiled awkwardly and patted Randall’s helmet.
“That’s something I’d always said I would do,” said Randall.
It isn’t often that trash talk is backed up as emphatically as it was on Sunday.
Cleveland 35 Cincinnati 20.
And it wasn’t that close.
“We’re tired of being disrespected,” Pepper said.
You’d think the Bengals would feel the same way and respond in similar fashion. After the game, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis could only muster his favorite post-game mantra.
“Just settle down and do your jobs,” said Lewis, who added he had no issue with his team’s effort. “I need to prepare them better. We’re pressing to make plays, instead of just relaxing.”
If only it was that simple.
Bengals lead the series with the Browns 50-40, but they clearly weren’t the better team on Sunday.
Sunday’s loss ended a seven-game winning streak against the Browns, who came in with a 25-game road losing streak, one shy of the NFL record. The last time the Browns won a game in Cincinnati was Nov. 6, 2014. The Bengals haven’t lost the season series to the Browns since 2002. That could still happen. The teams meet in Cleveland on Dec. 23.
“It’s just tough right now,” said Bengals receiver John Ross. “We have a lot of leaders that we expect to step up and they do. I wouldn’t say it’s just one guy.”
One of the most dismal days in recent Bengals history became more concerning when Andy Dalton injured his right thumb while trying to recover a bad snap, the same thumb he fractured trying to make a tackle, ending his 2015 season. The fumble was recovered by Cleveland to end a promising drive early in the second half.
“I just pulled it,” said Bengals center Billy Price, “something that doesn’t happen to me normally. I held on to it too long.”
Moments later, backup corner Tony McRae was carted off on a stretcher with his head and neck stabilized after suffering what the team announced was a concussion while blocking on a punt. Initial reports were positive for both players, but evaluations were ongoing Sunday night.
In the first half of Sunday’s game, you had to wonder if Jackson’s knowledge of the Browns’ offense was any advantage at all.
Browns rookie QB Baker Mayfield completed 17 of 22 pass attempts for 245 yards and three touchdowns in the first half to build a 28-7 lead. The Browns were 5-of-6 on third-down conversions in the half and had 19 first downs.
The Browns (4-6-1) went with four wide receivers to start Sunday’s game looking to exploit the lack of depth in the Bengals’ secondary, and it was something the Bengals seemed unprepared to handle.
“We were a little off balance with the four wide receivers,” said Lewis. “We need to make the adjustment.”
Despite serving as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator for two seasons, Jackson was asked to help consult Lewis on the defense after defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was fired on Nov. 12 after the Bengals allowed more than 500 total yards in the three straight games, the first NFL team to ever do that.
Jackson, who spent seven seasons with the Bengals, was fired as Browns head coach on Oct. 29 after going 3-36-1 in two-plus seasons, including 0-16 and 1-15 records in his first two campaigns in Cleveland.
The Bengals allowed “only” 342 total yards on Sunday, but the way the game started, 500 didn’t seem out of the question.
The Browns delivered the first punch and kept swinging. They drove 78 yards in 10 plays on their first possession on Sunday to go ahead 7-0 on Nick Chubb’s 1-yard TD run. At the end of the first quarter, the Browns led 14-0 and the few orange-clad fans who were not from Cleveland showered the Bengals with boos. It was 28-7 by halftime.
“We just have to get it together,” said linebacker Jordan Evans. “We’ve got Denver coming up and we can’t sit around and cry about this and mess around next week.”
If there was a positive on Sunday, it was the effort of Joe Mixon, who had 155 all-purpose yards including 89 on the ground. The second-year running back out of Oklahoma still was punishing Browns defenders even after the game was mostly decided.
Tyler Boyd had five of his seven catches in the second half, finishing with 85 yards and a touchdown. Backup QB Jeff Driskel passed for 155 yards and a touchdown and ran for another TD in relief of Dalton.
“You never want to see anyone go down,” Driskel said. “I was ready. I’ve been ready all year long.”
The injury list continues to grow. Not only were the Bengals without Green on Sunday, they also were missing starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, starting left tackle Cordy Glenn, and receiver Josh Malone. The Bengals already had lost linebacker Nick Vigil for the season.
So, what now?
The Bengals (5-6) are on the outside of the postseason picture with home games left against the Broncos and Raiders and three road games remaining at the LA Chargers, Steelers and Browns.
The heat is building on Lewis, who was given a two-year contract extension prior to this season. CBS Sports reported this weekend that Jackson might be in line to be Lewis’ successor next season, with Lewis remaining with the organization in some capacity.
Aside from last year’s firing of offensive coordinator Ken Zampese in Week 2 and the ouster of Austin this month, the Bengals don’t often make significant coaching changes during the season. Owner Mike Brown tends to honor contracts.
The Bengals players insist nobody in their locker room is packing up for the winter.
“I’m a believer,” said Boyd. “We’ve got guys who can step in for the guys that are hurt, and we can still win. I still believe in this team.”