Deshaun Watson was a lot better this week, in the sense that he didn’t look like he hasn’t played football in years. With that in mind, the offensive execution was lacking in the first half, and the team in general committed way too many penalties. That allowed Joe Burrow to capitalize with a 23-10 win, his first against the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland is now 5-8 on the season, and saw their slight playoff hopes pretty much go up in flames. Let’s get to the full game recap.
The Cincinnati Bengals received the ball first, and things started well for Cleveland’s defense when they forced an immediate three-and-out and a punt after two incomplete passes. That allowed QB Deshaun Watson to go to work from the Browns’ 24 yard line, and right out of the gate, he looked so much more comfortable passing the football: on first down, it was an 18-yard pass to the left sideline to WR Amari Cooper, and then on second down, it was a 13-yard catch-and-run to WR David Bell out past midfield.
Cleveland continued driving well with a mix of runs and passes. On a 2nd-and-7 play, Watson kept it himself and ran for what seemed to be a first down, but the officials ended up marking him a full yard short. On 3rd-and-1, RB Kareem Hunt was stopped short. On 4th-and-1, QB Jacoby Brissett came in. He ran a playaction fake and went deep for WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, but the pass was overthrown a bit and incomplete for a turnover on downs.
The Browns’ defense came up with another stop just shy of midfield, forcing Cincinnati to punt. The Browns’ offense would take over at the 19-yard line to start their second drive. On first down, Watson had an open receiver over the middle but failed to pull the trigger and it led to a two-yard loss. On third down, there were no receivers open and he took a sack. Cleveland punted, and P Corey Bojorquez got off a 60-yard punt; an illegal block in the back penalty meant Cincinnati would begin their next drive at the 10-yard line.
Cincinnati managed one first down before the defense got another third down top to force a punt. Peoples-Jones fair caught this punt at the 30-yard line. Two holding penalties by RT Jack Conklin and LG Joel Bitonio doomed the drive, though, and led to another punt. just like before, Bojorquez got off a nice punt of 55 yards, and then a holding penalty on Cincinnati set them back to the 15-yard line, now in the second quarter.
Joe Burrow’s struggles continued, as the Bengals couldn’t gain anything and were set to punt with him being 4-of-12 for 27 yards. On the punt, though, LB Tony Fields was flagged for roughing the punter, giving the Bengals’ offense new life. The Browns’ defense looked ready to get another stop as DE Jadeveon Clowney sacked Burrow for a loss of 8 yards, but it was negated by illegal hands to the face on DE Isaiah Thomas. On the next play, Burrow tried to go deep for WR Ja’Marr Chase, and CB Denzel Ward was flagged for a 33-yard pass interference penalty. A few plays later, Burrow squeezed one into Chase between two defenders for a touchdown to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead.
Cleveland went a little up-tempo on their next drive, with Watson hitting Chubb for a 12-yard screen pass, then scrambling for 9 yards to pick up a first down on 3rd-and-8, and hitting Cooper for 24 yards.
The Browns would have a 1st-and-10 at the 12-yard line, and then it became 2nd-and-6 from the 8-yard line after a 4-yard run by Hunt. Hunt was stuffed on second down, though, and on third down, Watson’s short pass to Hunt was tipped and incomplete. K Cade York came on to kick a 26-yard field goal, making it a 7-3 game with just under three minutes to go in the first half.
The Bengals began with a 5-yard run by RB Joe Mixon, followed by a 16-yard completion to Chase, heading into the two-minute warning. The Browns were poised to get a third-down sack on Burrow to stop the drive at midfield, but a penalty in the secondary allowed them to re-try third down. Burrow made the Browns pay, hitting WR Trent Taylor over the middle for a first down, and with S John Johnson missing the tackle, Taylor turned and ran for a 34-yard gain.
Burrow got another third-down completion, hitting a WR Trenton Irwin for 13 yards on 3rd-and-10 to the 6-yard line. On 1st-and-goal from the 6-yard line, the Bengals handed to RB Samaje Perine, who ran into a wall — but then the defense seemed to relax and assume he’d be tackled. Instead, he stayed up and bounced it to the outside for a touchdown, giving the Bengals a 13-3 lead with 24 seconds remaining in the half. The Bengals missed the extra point.
Cleveland got completions of 12 and 18 yards to Njoku and Peoples-Jones, respectively, to set up a Hail Mary from the 50-yard line. Watson’s pass did reach the end zone but fell incomplete amidst the scrum.
The Browns got the ball to begin the third quarter, but went three-and-out: a run by Chubb for no gain, an 8-yard completion to TE Harrison Bryant, and then on 3rd-and-2, they tried a rolling pocket, but Watson’s deep throw to Peoples-Jones was well overthrown. Bojorquez boomed a 65-yard punt, and after the return, the Bengals were ready to go to work from the 15-yard line.
The Bengals, meanwhile, started with three straight plays of 10, 12, and 10 yards, each of which moved the chains. That’s when DE Myles Garrett came through on three straight plays: first, he got in the way of a read-pass option, helping lead to an ineligible man downfield penalty. Then, he sacked Burrow for a loss of 4 yards. On 3rd-and-13, Garrett tipped the screen pass to have it fall incomplete. Cincinnati sent the punt unit out, and the offense would get another chance to redeem themselves from the 17-yard line.
Penalties continued hurting the Browns; they got into a 3rd-and-3, but then a snap infraction on the center made it 3rd-and-8. On third down, Watson was sacked almost immediately. Then, Bojorquez got off his worst punt (only 40 yards), for the Bengals to have their best starting field position from their own 45-yard line. A few plays later, Cincinnati ran a flea flicker, and the safety got caught, allowing a wide-open 45-yard touchdown pass to Irwin. That made it a 20-3 game with 7:26 remaining in the third quarter.
On the Browns’ next drive, they finally scored their first touchdown in the Watson era. All the action came through the air with Watson, with one big play being a 21-yard pass to Peoples-Jones. Later in the drive, on 4th-and-5 from the Bengals’ 33-yard line, Cleveland went for it, and Watson hit Njoku for 6 yards and a first down. on the next play, Watson hit Njoku again for a 13-yard catch-and-run. On first down from the 13-yard line, Watson hit Njoku again, who dove toward the pylon for a touchdown to make it a 20-10 game.
Unfortunately, the defense wasn’t up to playing complementary football anymore. Mixon busted a 40-yard run to start the drive, and that was followed by a 20-yard pass to Chase, already putting the Bengals in field goal range. The defense came up with a stop to hold Cincinnati to a 30-yard field goal, which they kicked on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it a 23-10 game.
Watson evaded a third-down sack and somehow completed a 16-yard pass to Peoples-Jones to begin the next drive. On the next play, though, he tried to hit Peoples-Jones again toward the left sideline, and Watson waited too long to deliver it and S Jessie Bates read it and picked it off, returning it to the Cincinnati 44-yard line with 13:39 to go.
Cincinnati drove into field goal range with the short field, but on a 3rd-and-5, Clowney tipped a pass and it was intercepted by LB Deion Jones to the 29-yard line.
Watson and the Browns ran the no-huddle offense to keep moving the chains, including with Watson using his legs on a couple of fourth-down attempts. They got to a 2nd-and-goal situation from the 6-yard line, but he had to throw the ball away on second down. On third down, his pass to Cooper in the back of the end zone was incomplete. On fourth down, he tried to throw the lob back shoulder to Peoples-Jones. The coverage was tight, but the ball also appeared catchable; it went off Peoples-Jones' shoulders and was incomplete for a turnover on downs with 5:25 remaining.
Sadly, that was the moment when all Browns fans pretty much felt it: their 2022 playoff hopes, even as a long shot, had basically ended.
The defense allowed one first down, but nothing more, while also burning their final two timeouts, to force a punt. It was only a 25-yard punt, though, giving Cleveland the ball at the Bengals’ 48-yard line with 4:20 to go. They could do nothing with it, though, and Watson’s fourth-down pass to Cooper was behind him for a turnover on downs.
This is a game that was certainly winnable. The Bengals eventually took advantage of Cleveland’s mistakes, and the Browns were a step behind coming through in the clutch for most of the game. At least Watson looked in better shape, which bodes well for this final month of the season. Up next, Cleveland takes on Baltimore on Saturday afternoon.
- QB Deshaun Watson: 26-of-42 for 276 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. 6 rushes, 33 yards.
- RB Nick Chubb: 14 carries, 34 yards.
- WR Amari Cooper: 2 catches, 42 yards.
- WR Donovan Peoples-Jones: 8 catches, 114 yards.
- TE David Njoku: 7 catches, 59 yards, 1 TD.
- DE Myles Garrett: 6 tackles, 2 sacks.