CINCINNATI - Paul Brown must be rolling over in his grave.
The slumping Bengals' hopes for turning a home-field victory against the rival Browns into a resurgent run for the playoffs Sunday turned into a disaster filled with injuries and ineptitude instead.
Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield battered the NFL's worst defense with four touchdown passes on the way to 35-7 lead en route to a 35-20 win, and that might not be the worst thing that happened to a team already decimated by injuries.
QB Andy Dalton had to leave in the third quarter with a right-thumb injury after he was caught in a pileup trying to recover a loose ball after a bad snap. The club hasn't revealed the extent of the injury, but Dalton went in for an x-ray and never came back to the sideline, so it can't be good.
Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com tweeted that Dalton would see a specialist Monday, and nothing could be definitive until then.
Marvin: first look at Andy’s injury isn’t serious. But still doing tests. @WCPO
— Keenan Singleton (@KJMSingleton) November 25, 2018
Despite Jeff Driskel's fourth-quarter heroics, the 5-6 Bengals took their fifth loss in six games - one that will surely end their playoff chances.
Head coach Marvin Lewis took the blame, saying: "This rests squarely on me. Have to do my job better. Get them better prepared."
“It hurts,” Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd said. “It hurts a lot.”
With Dalton out, Driskel impressively led the Bengals on two late touchdown drives and came close to two other times, so maybe Driskel could be the spark the offense needs in the way that AJ McCarron took over at the end of the 2015 season when Dalton went out.
Driskel threw a 28-yard TD pass to Boyd and ran for a 2-yard score, but his best pass - a 46-yard Hail Mary to Boyd at the 4-yard line, which could have set up a third TD - was called back by a penalty.
However, the Bengals would need to win out to stay in the wild-card race, and they probably have a better chance of losing out at this rate.
Jessie Bates: "I feel like sometimes everyone is doing it right and one guy is doing it wrong, and it just hurts you. Like I said, at some point us players have to step up. We can make all types of changes, but we're not playing hard so it's tough to win games." #Bengals
— Laurel Pfahler (@LaurelPfahler) November 25, 2018
The injuries keep piling up for the Bengals, who were without star receiver A.J. Green and starting CB Dre Kirkpatrick again.
OT Jake Fisher, making his first start of the year, left in the second quarter with a back injury.
DB Tony McRae was immobilized, carted off the field and taken to hospital with a head injury. in the third quarter The preliminary report was a concussion, but there might be more to it than that once doctors have time to fully examine him.
It's too bad Hue Jackson couldn't play defense, because then the fired Browns head coach rehired by the Bengals might have actually been able to do something to stop this disaster. Jackson got a cool reception from Mayfield when he greeted him after the game. Jackson appeared to try to hug Mayfield, but Mayfield extended a weak handshake instead.
Mayfield said seeing their former coach on the other sideline added to the Browns’ motivation.
“Somebody who was in our locker room is asking us to play for him, and then he goes to a different team,” said Mayfield.
Cleveland safety Damarious Randall added insult to injury after predicting during the week that if Green didn’t play, the Browns would dominate. Randall had a hand in making his prediction hold up, picking off Dalton in the second quarter. Randall ran out of bounds and handed the ball to Jackson. Jackson responded by tapping him on the helmet.
“He just said thank you for the ball,” Randall said.
It was clear the resurgent Browns (4-6-1) came into Paul Brown Stadium with a chip on their shoulders. They were determined to end their seven-game losing streak to the Bengals and to avoid their 26th straight loss on the road, which would have tied the NFL record.
Now it seems the NFL force in Ohio has moved from south to north.
Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft, shredded the hapless Bengals defense for 258 yards with no interceptions. That's 10 yards per pass attempt.
Somewhere Teryl Austin, fired as Bengals defensive coordinator three weeks ago, has to be smiling at seeing Lewis have little more success than he did at righting the defense.
OK, the Browns didn't get 500+ yards, and they only manged 84 yards for rushing - 180 less than the Ravens got last week. But they didn't need them. In the process of taking a 28-0 lead in the first half, the Browns totally dominated yardage and time of possession, and they continued to do so for three quarters until the outcome was all but decided.
The Browns’ 28 first-half points were their most since 1991, when they scored 31 against the Colts.
The Bengals finally scored 1:53 before halftime on Dalton's 2-yard pass to John Ross.
Mayfield threw TD passes to Antonio Calloway (13 yards), David Njoku (6), Nick Chubb (14) and Darren Fells (6). Chubb got 84 yards rushing on 28 attempts, including a 1-yard TD run.
Driskel was 17 of 29 for 155 yards, Dalton was 10 of 17 for 100 yards and one interception.
Joe Mixon gained 89 yards on 14 carries and caught seven passes for 66 yards. Boyd also had seven catches for 85 yards.
The Bengals had 13 penalties for 96 yards.