CINCINNATI — Sometimes you need your best player to make a big play to turn around the game.
A.J. Green did that in the Bengals’ 31-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
It almost didn't happen. The Bengals seemed content to run out the clock when they got the ball at their own 15 with 63 seconds left in the half. Curious.
Giovani Bernard ran into the right side of the line on the first two plays. He got a first down on the second run.
Only then did the Bengals seem to decide to try to score. Andy Dalton hit Tyler Eifert for 9 yards. Dalton hit Green for 16. After a sack, Dalton hit Bernard for 7.
The clock was down to :07 at that point. The Bengals ran a what-the-heck play. Dalton threw a rainbow of a pass into the left side of the end zone. Green was in the middle of four Cleveland defenders. No problem. He tipped the ball to himself, juggled it and hung on a 48-yard touchdown.
It was a shockingly great play.
Here’s nine takeaways from the win that got the Bengals to 3-4 on the year:
GREEN GOES FOR END ZONE
The Bengals looked to be playing to the level of the Browns, who came in 0-6, most of the half. But Green being Green pushed the lead to 21-10 and went a long way toward saving face and possibly the season for the Bengals.
Green finished with 169 yards on eight catches.
The Browns pulled back within four points with a touchdown on their first drive of the second half. Jeremy Hill didn’t allow it to stay that close long. Two plays later, Hill broke through the right side of the line and sprinted 74 yards for a TD.
Two defensive backs had an angle on Hill. But the 235-pounder outran them.
The Bengals shifted left tackle Andrew Whitworth shifted to the right side just before the snap. His block helped spring Hill.
Hill had a career day, rushing for 168 yards on just nine carries.
Mike Nugent missed from 40 yards in the first quarter and from 45 yards in the fourth quarter. He came in 13-for-13 from inside 50 yards.
The 31 points were a season-high for the Bengals. Their previous high was 23 in the season opener against the Jets in New York. They only broke 20 in one of the five games since — the 22-7 home win over Miami.
The Bengals lead the Battle of Ohio 47-39. They’ve won 18 of the last 24 and are 19-8 against the Browns under Marvin Lewis, including 11-3 at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals had five plays of 40 yards or better: Green had two receptions of 48 yards each; Hill had a 40-yard run in addition to the 74-yarder and Brandon LaFell caught a 44-yard pass.
The Bengals' first drive looked like the varsity versus the JVs. They went 75 yards in seven plays in 2:46. The key was a 40-yard Hill run to get to the 5. Bernard went in untouched on the next play.
When the Browns’ next drive went nowhere, you thought: Blowout, here we come.
But the Bengals stalled after a promising start on the next drive and Nugent missed a 40-yard field goal. Things did not look so certain for the Bengals until the big plays by Green and Hill.
Tight end Tyler Eifert was active for the first time all year. He did not start and did not play at all in the first drive. He entered the during the second drive. Dalton threw to him on second-and-18. The pass was well off target. Eifert didn’t catch a pass until there was less than a minute left in the first half.
That turned out to be his only catch.
The first three plays Kevin Hogan was in the game at quarterback, he ran the ball. Each time, it seemed to catch the Bengals completely off guard. He totaled 27 yards on the three runs.
Maybe they were having trouble distinguishing Hogan’s No. 8 from starter Cody Kessler’s No. 6.
After Kessler was knocked out of the game, Hogan continued to break off big runs by getting the Bengal to bite on fake handoffs.
Hogan ran seven times for 104 yards and a TD.
IT’S TACKLE FOOTBALL
The Bengals simply could not tackle Browns running back Isaiah Crowell. He squirted free time and time again.
Crowell, a former college free agent from Alabama State, came in averaging 5.2 yards a carry. That famously is Jim Brown’s career average. Crowell heretofore has never been compared to Brown.
Crowell had 45 yards on seven carries in the half. They held him to 16 yards on five carries in the second half.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.