CINCINNATI — Who needs Odell Beckham Jr.? The Browns certainly didn't this week.
Following a week of questions and drama, Cleveland earned its biggest win of the season Sunday with a 41-16 pummeling of the Cincinnati Bengals in the "Battle of Ohio." It was a true all-around effort, complete with several big plays on both offense and defense.
It all began on the first drive of the game, when it looked like the Bengals would score on the Browns' much-maligned defense. However, on third-and-goal from the 3, Denzel Ward picked off Joe Burrow's pass and took it 99 yards for a touchdown, and it seemed as if the rest of the team followed his year.
All eyes were on Baker Mayfield following his rift with the soon-to-be-released Beckham, and the young quarterback responded with 218 yards, a 132.6 passer rating, and two TDs. His first score came on a 60-yard strike to Donovan Peoples-Jones, Beckham's replacement in the lineup.
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The 41 points were as many as the Browns had in the last three weeks combined. Nick Chubb carried the ball just 14 times, but tallied 137 yards and two touchdowns, including a 70-yard scamper in the third quarter.
Besides Ward's heroics (three pass deflections along with the INT), the defense stepped up in a big way following a shaky start. Cornerback Troy Hill sacked Burrow three times, Myles Garrett had 1 1/2 more, and John Johnson III forced a fumbled and had an interception. The Bengals gained 150 yards on their first two series, but only 198 the rest of the way.
Both teams are now 5-4 and tied for third in the AFC North, although the Browns have the head-to-head tiebreaker. Cleveland's tough road continues next week in New England against a suddenly resurgent Patriots team, which also sits at 5-4.
What follows is a comprehensive recap of today's action, with the most recent plays and updates closest to the top. Stay tuned for more analysis throughout the day on 3News and WKYC.com.
4:27 - Browns 41, Bengals 16: The final dagger comes from the arm of Baker Mayfield, an 18-yard bullet to David Njoku for a touchdown.
6:59: Joe Burrow is sacked again by Troy Hill (his third) and his fourth-down heave to Tee Higgins falls incomplete. The Browns take over at the Bengals 28, hoping to put the finishing touches on a much-needed win.
9:04: The Browns take almost five minutes off the clock, but Chase McLaughlin's 45-yard field goal attempt sails wide left for just his second miss of the year. The Bengals take over at their own 27, needing a score to stay alive.
13:51 - Browns 34, Bengals 16: A drive partly aided by a Sheldon Day roughing the passer penalty ends with a 2-yard Joe Mixon touchdown. However, the two-point conversion attempt is stuffed by the Browns' defensive front, and it remains a three-score game.
0:00: Neither offense could do much before the end of the third quarter, and Troy Hill even picked up his second sack of Joe Burrow. However, Baker Mayfield was sacked by Sam Hubbard, and the Bengals are driving at the Browns 12.
5:14 - Browns 34, Bengals 10: Cleveland gets the ball to the 1, but a false start penalty helps end their touchdown chances. Instead, Chase McLaughlin converts a 24-yard field goal.
6:34: Yet another takeaway, and Denzel Ward deflects Joe Burrow's pass and John Johnson III picks it off. The safety returns it all the way to the Bengals 8, where it will be first-and-goal for the Browns.
8:00 - Browns 31, Bengals 10: It's been all about the big plays today, and this time it's a 70-yard touchdown by Nick Chubb that gives the Browns a three-score lead again.
8:21: Myles Garrett answers back with a sack of Joe Burrow, and the Bengals are forced to punt. Kevin Huber's punt goes just 37 yards and out of bounds, giving the Browns the ball at their own 30.
Some bad news, though: Cornerback Greedy Williams is out for the rest of the game with a shoulder injury suffered in the first half. It's the same shoulder that kept him out all of last season.
11:39: The Bengals get a hair of momentum as Trey Hendrickson and Josh Tupou team up to sack Baker Mayfield on third down near midfield. Jamie Gillan's punt pins Cincinnati at its own 13-yard line.
0:00 - Browns 24, Bengals 10: Cincinnati chews up most of the rest of the clock and gets a 27-yard field goal from Evan McPherson. The subsequent kickoff leads to nothing, and we head into halftime.
4:10 - Browns 24, Bengals 7: Cleveland gets to the 4, but a blown up option play on third-down leads to a 7-yard loss. The Browns settle for a 28-yard Chase McLaughlin field goal to make it a three-score game.
7:31: The Browns' defense is playing angry.
John Johnson III knocks the ball loose from Ja'Marr Chase and A.J. Green returns the recovery 16 yards. Cleveland takes over at the Cincinnati 30 as it looks to extend its lead.
10:10 - Browns 21, Bengals 7: In an instant, the Browns take their largest lead in weeks after Baker Mayfield finds a wide-open Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 60-yard touchdown.
10:18: The Cleveland defense gets a stop at last, with Troy Hill sacking Joe Burrow and then providing solid coverage on a fourth-down incompletion. The Browns take over at their own 40-yard line.
14:45 - Browns 14, Bengals 7: The Browns' offense finally takes the field and goes on a long drive of its own, partly aided by a pass interference penalty against Ricardo Allen on third down. Two plays later, Nick Chubb punches it in from a yard out.
4:10 - Browns 7, Bengals 7: Despite Denzel Ward's heroics, Cleveland's defense is off to another inauspicious start, allowing another 75-yard drive that this time ends in an 11-yard touchdown run by Joe Mixon.
8:43 - Browns 7, Bengals 0: Joe Burrow leads Cincinnati on a long and productive drive, and appears to get a break after the Browns are called for an offsides following a sack on third-and-goal. However, Denzel Ward subsequently picks off the pass on the second try and takes it 99 yards to the house, and Cleveland gets a huge early boost from its defense.
12:30 p.m.: With Odell Beckham Jr. gone, Donovan Peoples-Jones will start at wide receiver after missing the last two games with a groin injury. Cornerback Denzel Ward, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, and tight end Harrison Bryant are also active after being listed on the injury report all week.
The following Browns join Beckham on the inactive list:
- CB Herb Miller
- G Hjalte Froholdt
- TE Miller Forristall
- DE Joe Jackson
- DT Tommy Togiai
- DT Andrew Billings
Unfortunately, All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin is out after being placed on injured reserve with a dislocated elbow, and Blake Hance will start in his place. Fullback Andy Janovich and corner A.J. Green were activated off IR and will be available.