The Browns began in the All-American Football Conference in 1946. Owner Mickey McBride had deep pockets and hired Paul Brown to be Cleveland’s first head coach while Brown was still in the military. Coach Brown built the franchise into a dominating force.
When the Browns merged into the NFL in 1950, Cleveland won that year’s NFL Championship Game. In all, the Browns would win four AAFC Championships and four NFL Championships.
In the mid-to-late 1960’s, the upstart American Football League, another NFL rival league, was looking to add expansion franchises. First came the Miami Dolphins. In 1968, the league contacted Paul Brown and offered him the next expansion club. After some deliberation, he accepted knowing all of the AFL teams would merge into the NFL for the 1970 season.
Brown narrowed his decision between Cincinnati and Columbus, each located in Ohio. He chose Cincinnati mainly because that city was populated by just over 200,000 more people plus Cincinnati already had a Major League Baseball club. Brown became majority owner, head coach and GM of the team later christened the “Bengals.”
Today, that means that two franchises in the NFL was founded by one man.
When the AFL and NFL merged into one league beginning in 1970, the league would be divided into two conferences: the NFC and the AFC. At first, the NFC comprised of all 16 NFL clubs while the AFC were the 10 AFL squads. Three franchises needed to jump over. In the end, it was Cleveland, the Baltimore Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers left the NFL side to help form the newly-christened AFC.
The Browns were placed in the newly-formed AFC Central along with the Houston Oilers, Steelers, and Paul Brown’s Bengals. And even after the two conference’s have seen various re-alignments, the Browns and Bengals have always been division mates.
So, each game against each other has a bit more pepper on them. In this matchup, the Browns needed almost every minute of the game to win 37-34.
So, who played well for the Browns, and who didn’t?
Game-saving touchdown drive - Thank goodness for nobody on the Browns not believing that they couldn’t pull this one out. “Baker, Baker. How you can throw us to the Super Bowl, yeh, yeh, yeh” is the new song for this franchise. The offensive line gave QB Baker Mayfield all the time he needed to survey the field. Using hardly-utilized players in the final quarter: a 13-yard completion to Donovan Peoples-Jones on a scramble, then an eight-yarder to Rashard Higgins followed by a 30-yard completion to Higgins again to set up shop on the Bengals’ 24-yard line. Then, magically Mayfield unleashed a strike to the rookie Peoples-Jones for the game winner who made an OBJ type catch in the end zone. The drive took only five plays and consumed the entire 75-yards needed in just :55 of game time.
Offensive line - Mayfield wasn’t sacked a single time this game and usually had ample time to throw. The Bengals defensive line had just two batted passes and four QB hits, four by DE Carl Lawson. The rightside with guard Chris Hubbard and tackle Jack Conklin saw the most rushing attempts come their way and had frequent success to this side. Tretter sucked it up and returned to play his usual sterling game and dominated Cincy nose tackle Xavier Williams.
TE Harrison Bryant - No shirt, no shoes, no Austin Hooper? No problem. Ranked as the best tight end in college football last season, the rookie has impressed with his contortion catches and improved blocking skills. Today, he dominated his man safety Jessie Bates whose 6’-1” frame was supposed to match up with the 6’-5”, 243 pounds of tight end flesh. But Bryant was no match for Bates who caught two touchdowns in front of Number 30 and turned a key third-and-six in the third quarter for a 12-yard gain to set up a first down on the Bengals’ 13-yard line. Three plays later, it was Mayfield to Bryant for the touchdown to even the score at 17. Earlier in the same drive Bryant caught a 35-yard pass and had several good blocks on other passing downs.
CB Denzel Ward - The man was on fire all game. The first quarter interception was tipped by Ward into the waiting arms of LB B.J. Goodson. Had several first half tackles and tipped passes, two in the first half. With 2:54 left in the third stanza, a pass into the end zone for Bengals’ receiver A.J. Green was collected by Green. As he was falling, Ward was able to scrape the ball loose with his right hand to avert the apparent touchdown.
DE Myles Garrett - A very good day for Cleveland’s best defender. Two QB hits and two sacks, which could have been four. Constant pressure on the QB and was active in run stoppage. In the first quarter, he beat LT Jonah Williams off the edge and hit Bengals’ QB Joe Burrow who fumbled to which Cleveland recovered. With 22 ticks left in the first half, Garrett made an outside move on Williams who whiffed. Left guard Michael Jordan had moved over to help Williams, but Garrett was already in the backfield and Jordan was helpless to assist. Burrow had no chance while Garrett collected his second sack. Garrett has now collected at least one sack in six consecutives games, a franchise record.
WR Rashard Higgins - When OBJ went down and was sent into the locker room, somebody had to step up. That somebody was Hollywood Higgins. He caught all six targets for 110 yards. Although he did not score, there were several key catches that enabled the Browns to continue their drives that set up points. In the first half, he had one catch for 10-yards. Higgins was utilized more in the gameplan in the second half and the strategy payed off. In the third quarter with Cincinnati up 24-20, Cleveland had a good drive but faced a third-and-four at their own 39-yard line. Higgins caught a deep left pass for 21-yards working out of the slot. Two plays later, Mayfield found David Njoku in the end zone. On the next possession, it was Higgins again for 20-yards before Kareem Hunt scored. And on the final possession, Hollywood caught an eight-yarder before snagging a 30-yard catch which took every inch of his reach that put Cleveland in striking distance of the goal line.
Short - quick passing game - Hats off to play caller Kevin Stefanski to adjust his gameplan at the half. The running game wasn’t getting any traction and OBJ was going to be out. So, he had Mayfield go to short slants and medium out passes that kept moving the sticks. And, he involved usually non-descript players such as Harrison Bryant, Rashard Higgins, David Njoku and Donovan Peoples-Jones to get targets and come through.
CB Terrance Mitchell - Defensive backs get paid to knock down passes and intercept the ball. Mitchell did neither. Standing all alone with an errant pass that came directly to him with 10:43 left in the contest and a slim 24-20 lead, Mitchell left his feet when he didn’t have to, and dropped not only a sure interception, but in all likelihood a pick six. Several plays later, Cincinnati’s Tee Higgins scored the go-ahead touchdown. That made a 14-point swing. Mitchell missed several tackles including QB Joe Burrows’ 12-yard scamper up the middle for a key first down that set the Bengals up at the 16-yard line.
Defense stopping drives - In the first half, the Bengals had five drives: INT on batted ball on the Browns’ 16-yard line after a good drive, TD, Sack/fumble, FG and TD. Four of those five drives were long and ate up clock. Cleveland could not cover the short intermediate passing zones. In the second half: FG, TD, TD, and finally a failed Hail Mary. Burrow passed for 406 passing yards and found open receivers all day especially in the middle of the field. In the victory over the Dallas Cowboys, they amassed 502 yards through the air. Houston, we have a problem.
Pass rush - The Browns had four total sacks. That is the good news. And seven QB hits aren’t bad. But other than Myles Garrett, where was the pass rush? DC Joe Woods blitzed almost every down, yet unless the Bengals failed to pick up the blitzing safety, the Cincinnati front five did a very good job at keeping the Browns’ defensive line out. Sheldon Richardson had his moments, but Jordan Elliott, Larry Ogunjobi and Vincent Taylor where MIA. To beat teams, it is necessary to make the opposing QB hurry his reads.
MILK BONES - bought cheap, then sold for a good profit
QB Baker Mayfield - Playing Good Cop, Bad Cop, Mayfield was one of the heroes of this game. He tossed five TD passes including the game winner. He began the game 0-5 and threw a pick to Cincinnati CB Darius Phillips on the game’s second play intended for OBJ who was well-covered. Next, the star receiver went down with a knee injury trying to get involved in the tackle. Center J.C. Tretter was also hurt, but returned. It was Mayfield’s fifth interception in the last five-and-one-half quarters of play. In the first half, Mayfield overthrew several balls including TE David Njoku in the end zone in quarter number 1 and then completed 16 straight. But he made adjustments in the second half and shined including four TD passes. He finished 22-28 for 297 yards and a 135.6 QB rating.
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones - The rookie still hasn’t gotten any traction returning kicks, but made the best catch of his first season with the game-winning score. Caught all three targets. Nice hands.
Special Teams - Kicker Cody Parkey was once again perfect on his only field and has connected on 11 straight. But with 18 seconds left in the game and the Mayfield to Peoples-Jones touchdown, he missed the PAT which would have given Cleveland a four point lead instead of only three. Although slim odds, this gave Cincy the opportunity to drive the field at a chance for a tying field goal. Punter Jamie Gillan had one punt for 50-yards with LS Charley Hughlett perfect on all seven game snaps. Peoples-Jones remains below average in kick returns with a 21.5 average. The kick and punt coverage teams had a remarkable day led by Tavierre Thomas, Stephen Carlson and Tae Davis. The Bengals averaged just 18.8 on kick returns and a mere 11 yards on the lone punt.
S Ronnie Harrison - This guy looks like a keeper. Was out of position a few times, but he can certainly tackle. Finished with a game-high nine tackles and a key sack off the corner blitz. His fumble recovery after the Garrett strip/sack was a remarkable presence of field environment to remain inbounds.
Which weapon for Mayfield was the game’s offensive MVP?
This poll is closed
RB Kareem Hunt
WR Rashard Higgins
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones
TE Harrison Bryant