CLEVELAND -- With a pair of winless teams facing off in “The Battle of Ohio” between the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, something had to give in the AFC North Division matchup at FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday.
Unfortunately, that something was the Browns’ defense against the Bengals (1-3).
Despite fumbling on the first drive of the game, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton completed 25 of his 30 attempts for 286 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions and spread the ball out to nine different players on the way to engineering a 31-7 victory over the Browns (0-4).
Dalton’s seven-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver A.J. Green gave the Bengals a 7-0 lead over the Browns with 14:56 to play in the first half.
Facing a third-and-six from Cleveland’s seven-yard line, Dalton took the shotgun snap and lofted a pass toward the left back corner of the end zone, where Green hauled it in and got two feet down in bounds after getting behind the coverage of rookie safety Jabrill Peppers.
The Bengals needed nine plays and 5:21 to go just 35 yards after a 40-yard return from defensive back Adam Jones on a Britton Colquitt punt set up the offense with a short field deep in Cleveland territory.
Dalton threw a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Kroft and gave the Bengals a 14-0 lead over the Browns with 2:34 to play in the second quarter.
With a second-and-goal from the Cleveland three-yard line, Dalton took the shotgun snap, froze Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey and finished off his 13-play, 88-yard drive when he side-armed a throw into the end zone for his second passing touchdown of the game.
Earlier in the drive, Dalton completed a 25-yard pass to Green, who had inside position on Browns defensive back Jason McCourty and used his speed to create enough separation for the pass. The Browns gave up additional yards when McCourty was whistled for a horse-collar tackle.
Also, on a third-and-15 from Cincinnati’s 27-yard line, Dalton found Kroft for a 21-yard gain and a new set of downs.
Dalton completed a 61-yard touchdown pass to running back Giovani Bernard and gave the Bengals a 21-0 lead over the Cleveland Browns with 47 seconds remaining in the first half.
On first-and-10 at the 39-yard line, the Browns brought a heavy rush up the middle, and seeing the heat coming, Dalton flared out a pass to Bernard on the right side of the formation. With a pulling guard neutralizing the pursuit of rookie safety Jabrill Peppers down the field, Bernard hustled his way into the end zone for the touchdown.
Prior to the touchdown pass, Dalton completed two throws to backup tight end Tyler Kroft for a pair of 11-yard gains.
The Bengals needed just three plays to travel 83 yards after an illegal block penalty negated a 44-yard punt return.
The Bengals started the second half of “The Battle of Ohio” against the Browns with a 10-play, 52-yard drive that kicker Randy Bullock finished off with a 41-yard field goal.
Bullock’s conversion gave the Bengals a 24-0 lead over the Browns with 11:28 to play in the third quarter.
In addition to finding Green early and often in games and utilizing his running backs, Dalton has always been comfortable using the tight ends, and even with his No. 1 option, Tyler Eifert, inactive, the veteran continues to successfully turn his progressions into touchdowns.
On the second drive of the second half, Dalton found Kroft for a 16-yard touchdown pass, and their second scoring combination of the game gave the Bengals a 31-0 lead over the Browns with 3:37 to play in the third quarter.
The Dalton-to-Kroft touchdown was the fifth play of at least 10 yards for the Bengals on the 10-play, 83-yard drive.
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