The Cleveland Browns gave their fans a nice Christmas present on Sunday as they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The 26-18 victory gives the Browns their first season sweep of the Bengals since 2002, and finishes off the home portion of the schedule with a 5-2-1 record. The Browns also evened their overall record at 7-7-1; with a win next week against the Baltimore Ravens, the Browns will finish the season with a winning record for just the third time since 1989.
The game started out slowly as neither team could get on the scoreboard in the first quarter. The Browns flashed their big-play potential on the game’s opening drive, however, with a 21-yard run by Duke Johnson.
Duke Johnson goes for 21 yards! pic.twitter.com/6n2DFrCTKv— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 23, 2018
The Browns would eventually face a fourth-down and it appeared that Nick Chubb had converted with a short run, but the play was called back as Cleveland was flagged for a penalty.
In a sign of what was to come for the first three quarters, the defense held Cincinnati on the ensuing drive, thanks to a third-down blitz from linebacker Joe Schobert that forced a fumble from Jeff Driskel, which the Bengals recovered.
Cleveland’s second drive of the game took on a familiar look after quarterback Baker Mayfield hit wide receiver Rashard Higgins for a 55-yard catch-and-run. The officials, however, had other ideas as they called a highly dubious pass interference call on Higgins to wipe out the play. That was followed by a third-down drop from wide receiver Jarvis Landry and the Browns ended up punting.
Following another Cincinnati punt, the Browns were finally able to pull off a big play without the officials getting in the way as Chubb ripped off a 22-yard gain. That helped spark a drive that culminated in Mayfield hitting tight end David Njoku for a three-yard touchdown pass.
CHIEF SLAM!!— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 23, 2018
Mayfield to Njoku for 6️⃣! pic.twitter.com/gIVkt90FNL
That touchdown drive, which covered 74 yards in 13 plays, was the Browns 16th in 17 red zone trips since Freddie Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator.
#Browns have scored a touchdown on 16 of their 17 trips into the red zone since Freddie Kitchens became their offensive coordinator— Nate Ulrich (@ByNateUlrich) December 23, 2018
The defense continued to bring the pressure on the next drive, as linebacker Genard Avery sacked Driskel on third down, forcing yet another Bengals’ punt.
Feeling a bit more comfortable, the Browns opened up their next drive with wide receiver Jarvis Landry hitting wide receiver Breshard Perriman with a 63-yard pass to bring the Browns down to Cincinnati’s seven-yard-line.
LANDRY WITH A PERFECT PASS TO PERRIMAN! pic.twitter.com/onD6U14oUW— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 23, 2018
Mayfield then hit Darren Fells for a 1-yard touchdown reception.
Darren Fells for 6️⃣! pic.twitter.com/msa5T42zQP— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 23, 2018
After another strong series from the Browns defense that resulted in another Bengals punt, the Browns offense continued to show off their big plays during a drive that featured Chubb’s 20-yard run and a 13-yard reception by Perriman.
The drive ultimately ended with a Greg Joseph 37-yard field goal to put the Browns up 16-0 heading into halftime. In their two meetings this season, the Browns outscored the Bengals by a combined scored of 44-7 in the first half.
The Bengals opened the second half with the ball, and after going 0-for-5 on third downs in the first half, somehow managed to convert a third-and-17 play. The Browns defense bounced back, however, and given another chance at stopping the Bengals on third-and-17, broke up a pass and forced another Cincinnati punt.
Mayfield and Landry connected on the ensuing drive for a nice 19-yard completion along the sidelines on a third-and-two play. That was just one of another series of big chunk plays on a drive that included a Chubb 15-yard run and a Dontrell Hilliard 15-yard reception.
The drive concluded with Mayfield’s third touchdown pass of the day, this time a 17-yard catch-and-run by Rashard Higgins to put the Browns up 23-0.
HOLLYWOOD!— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 23, 2018
Touchdown, #Browns! pic.twitter.com/ZDSiQSotVt
Those three touchdown passes give Mayfield 24 on the season, putting him in some pretty good company:
Baker Mayfield has 24 TDs with 5 quarters left in his rookie season. All alone in 3rd for most-ever by an NFL rookie. Needs 2 to tie Wilson/Manning, and 3 to have it all to himself.— Andrew Gribble (@Andrew_Gribble) December 23, 2018
The Bengals finally were able to get something going on offense, driving as far as the Browns 21-yard line, but consecutive plays by Jabrill Peppers (a tackle on Gio Bernard for a four-yard loss) and Larry Ogunjobi (an eight-yard sack on Driskel) forced the Bengals to settle for a field goal to cut the Browns lead to 23-3 just after the start of the fourth quarter.
The Browns responded to the field with a nice drive that consumed 14 plays and took 7 minutes and 29 seconds off the clock. The drive was extended by a pair of Mayfield runs and ultimately ended up with a Joseph field goal to put the Browns up 26-3.
The Bengals came back, however, with their best offensive drive of the game, as Driskel drove them 75 yards in six plays before hitting C.J. Uzomah with a 14-yard touchdown pass.
Cleveland’s special teams followed that up with yet another breakdown as the Bengals blocked Britton Colquitt’s punt. Cincinnati turned that into a second Driskel touchdown pass, this time to John Ross. The subsequent two-point conversion cut Cleveland’s lead to eight points, 26-18.
Things were looking a little dicey for the Browns, but on a second-down play just before the two-minute warning, Mayfield hit Njoku and the second-year tight end took it 66 yards to the Bengals’ four-yard-line to seal the victory.
DAVID NJOKU’S GOT WHEELS! pic.twitter.com/5WSOOLvKW4— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 23, 2018
The Browns followed with the victory formation to close out the win, but not before Mayfield reminded former head coach Hue Jackson who the new sheriff is in town:
Baker Mayfield stared Hue Jackson down!! pic.twitter.com/FHaFc7er0I— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 23, 2018
The Browns have now won five of their past six games.
- Quarterback Baker Mayfield: 27-of-37 for 284 yards, three TDs, 121.9 quarterback rating
- Running back Nick Chubb: 19 rushes for 112 yards. It was Chubb’s fourth 100-yard game of the season.
- Tight end David Njoku: 3 receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown
- Wide receiver Rashard Higgins: 6 receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown
- Browns defense: held the Bengals to 209 yards of offense and just 1-of-8 on third down