I knew the Browns’ backups shouldn’t have stood much of a chance this week, but I still tried to hype myself up and sell my mind on the fact that Cleveland could pull off a victory. Instead, it’s what it should be when it’s starters vs. backups: a meaningless blowout, as Cincinnati cruised to a 31-14 victory and Cleveland stood no chance with Jeff Driskel under center. Let’s get to the full game recap, but more importantly, let’s move on to thinking about the postseason and facing Houston next week.
The first quarter went as one would expect with backups on Cleveland facing starters for Cincinnati. Jeff Driskel was intercepted on his first drive, trying to get the ball up the left sideline. It is worth noting that some starters, like LT Geron Christian, RT James Hudson, WR Cedric Tillman, and WR Elijah Moore, were still in the lineup.
On the defensive side of the ball, QB Jake Browning was picked off on his first drive after he overthrew a receiver and then S D’Anthony Bell made an athletic play in tipping the ball to himself and coming down with the interception.
Driskel could do nothing with his second drive, and then Browning got the Bengals into scoring range with a 35-yard pass. RB Joe Mixon got Cincinnati out of a 1st-and-20 situation with runs of 13, 9 and then 1 yards, the latter of which was a touchdown to put the Bengals up 7-0.
After Cleveland did nothing again, Mixon ripped off a 44-yard run for the Bengals to get into field goal range. A few plays later, Browning threw it to Mixon in the flat, who broke a tackle and walked into the end zone from 6 yards out to make it a 14-0 game. The Browns were out-gained 159-0 in yards for the opening quarter.
Mixon back in the end zone‼️ pic.twitter.com/8QzsxWiB8a— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 7, 2024
The Browns’ offense faced a 3rd-and-10 to begin the second quarter. Driskel’s pass downfield into a crowd fell incomplete, and Cleveland punted again. Cincinnati’s offense continued to coast, consistently getting positive yardage and push up front. The drive was capped off by a 3-yard touchdown pass, giving Cincinnati a 21-0 lead.
Driskel finally got a first down pass when he connected on a fade to Tillman for 18 yards. A couple plays later, on 3rd-and-8, Driskel’s pass to WR James Proche down the sideline was thrown into double coverage and knocked away. Bojorquez came on for another punt, but this time was able to pin the Bengals back at the 4 yard line.
Cleveland’s defense had Cincinnati in a third down situation, but then WR Tyler Boyd dropped what was a wide open 92-yard touchdown pass. Cleveland was offsides, though, giving the Bengals another shot on 3rd-and-1. Before they could even run a play, the Browns jumped in the neutral zone again, giving Cincinnati an automatic first down. A few plays later, the defense finally got a stop on 3rd-and-12, stopping a screen pass shy of a first down.
After the punt, Cleveland had their best starting field position at their own 43 yard line. Two plays later, Driskel’s arm was hit as he tried to throw downfield, resulting in a duck and an easy interception that was returned to the Browns’ 34 yard line.
A few plays later, DT Shelby Harris was down with an injury, representing the type of scenario Cleveland needed to avoid. The Bengals later faced a 4th-and-3 heading into the two-minute warning. They kicked a 45-yard field goal to make it a 24-0 game.
Cleveland mostly ran the ball to get into Cincinnati territory, despite the clock ticking down toward the end of the half. A 14-yard pass to TE Jordan Akins got the Browns down to the 28 yard line, but there wasn’t enough time to spike the ball, resulting in the end of the half.
The Browns’ defense came out a bit fired up, generating a three-and-out that included DE Isaiah McGuire sacking Browning on third down for a 12-yard loss.
After the punt, Cleveland would start at their own 46 yard line, trying to get their first points of the day. Instead, they went three-and-out again. At least on the punt, Bojorquez did great work for the second time in a row, this time having it downed right at the 1 yard line.
Just like earlier, the Browns squandered it by jumping into the neutral zone. And then the Bengals completed the 99-yard drive for a touchdown, extending their lead to 31-0 after Browning tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass.
Cleveland punted away to Cincinnati again with under two minutes to go in the quarter. A.J. McCarron (remember him!?!) came on to replace Browning. Cincinnati went three-and-out and punted right back to Cleveland before the end of the quarter. Strong had a 20-yard run to the Bengals’ 42 yard line on the final play of the quarter.
Driskell took a 10-yard sack, leading to another scenario of punting, Bengals going three-and-out, and then punting right back to Cleveland. This time, the Browns got closer, to the Bengals’ 31 yard line, before facing a 4th-and-4. The Browns went for it, and Driskel found WR David Bell in the left corner of the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown to avoid the shutout and make it a 31-7 game.
The Browns’ defense forced another three-and-out, and then Driskel got the Browns past midfield again with four minutes to go. A few plays later, Driskel connected on another touchdown pass to Bell, this time from 24 yards out, to make it a 31-14 game with 2:34 to go. That’s all she wrote.
Up next, the Cleveland Browns go on the road to battle the Houston Texans in the first round of the playoffs. The Browns just destroyed the Texans in Houston two weeks ago, but that was also without them having C.J. Stroud under center.
- QB Jeff Driskel: 13-of-26 for 167 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT. 6 rushes, 34 yards.
- RB Pierre Strong: 14 carries, 65 yards (4.6 YPC).
- WR David Bell: 4 catches, 68 yards, 2 TD.