CINCINNATI -- The Browns’ premature playoff talk was silenced as the Bengals established themselves as the clear favorite in the AFC North with a 41-20 victory this afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium.
Cincinnati heads into its bye week 7-4 and with at least a 1½-game lead in the division. (The Ravens’ game was still in progress). The Browns fell to 4-6 and 2½ games back and head home for must-wins vs. Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.
The game was decided in a historic second quarter.
The Bengals scored 31 unanswered points, setting a team record for points in a quarter. They did it with only three first downs.
The Bengals’ longest drive of the avalanche was 38 yards. They scored on two Andy Dalton passes, a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, a fumble returned for a touchdown and a field goal.
The Browns actually led 13-0 in the first quarter, and it should’ve been more. They settled for 20- and 28-yard Billy Cundiff field goals before Joe Haden returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown.
It was the first pick-six of Haden’s life.
But the sky quickly fell on the Browns. Even before it opened up and let out sheets of rain that arrived later than expected.
Spencer Lanning had a punt partially blocked and one totally blocked, leading to 14 Bengals points.
Chris Ogbonnaya played hard, but fumbled on a big hit by Vontaze Burfict, who returned the fumble 13 yards for the score.
And quarterback Jason Campbell was unable to continue his hot start.
He couldn't find receivers open downfield, checked down constantly and was off-target in a difficult wind. The first of his three interceptions led to Cincinnati’s first score and started the onslaught.
Campbell finished 27-for-56 for 248 yards and a touchdown. The attempts are a career high.
The rain came as the Browns tried to mount a comeback at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Browns scored the only points of the third quarter and trailed 31-20 heading into the final 15 minutes. Cleveland (4-5) trails first-place Cincinnati (6-4) by 1½ games in the AFC North.
The touchdown was a beauty.
Jason Campbell looked right, then threw deep down the left sideline for receiver Josh Gordon, who was covered by Dre Kirkpatrick. The throw was perfect, Gordon hauled it in and finished the 74-yard touchdown.
** The Browns’ first drive of the second half ended with an incompletion on fourth-and-5 from the Cincinnati 34-yard line. Campbell looked left but the receivers were covered. Under pressure he threw toward Gordon down the right sideline, but cornerback Terence Newman broke it up at the last second.
** The Browns ruled out inside linebacker Craig Robertson (knee) and punt returner Armonti Edwards (ankle).
** Rookie defensive lineman Armonty Bryant extended a Bengals drive with an offsides penalty as Cincinnati punted on fourth-and-2. The drive resulted in no points and another punt.
Momentum swung in a moment. And it didn’t swing back.
The Bengals (6-4) staked their claim to the AFC North title with a dominant second quarter against the Browns (4-5). First-place Cincinnati set a franchise record with 31 points and took a 31-13 lead into halftime at windy but dry Paul Brown Stadium.
The Browns led 13-0 and had first down at their 20-yard line when Jason Campbell was intercepted for the first time in 99 throws. The Bengals sprinted to 31 straight points and control of the game over a stunned Browns team hoping to establish its legitimacy as a playoff contender.
Linebacker James Harrison grabbed the tipped Campbell pass and bulldozed his way through guard Shawn Lauvao and center Alex Mack into the end zone, but the touchdown was nullified by an illegal-block penalty. It only delayed the Browns’ pain.
Andy Dalton, who threw two first-quarter interceptions, hit tight end Jermaine Gresham for a 25-yard touchdown pass on a corner route. Linebacker Craig Robertson was beat on the play, then missed a tackle at the 2-yard line, along with safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Joe Haden.
The avalanche from the Bengals was only getting started.
They went ahead 14-13 on a 6-yard pass from Dalton to Mohamed Sanu in the corner between nickelback Chris Owens and Ward. The Bengals’ 38-yard drive was set up by a partially blocked Spencer Lanning punt that traveled 9 yards.
The snap from Christian Yount was to Lanning’s right and he had to slide a step. Safety Shawn Williams broke through the line and dived to get his hand on the ball.
Two tries later, Lanning’s punt was more than partially blocked.
Jayson DiManche got past rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo and running back Chris Ogbonnaya and deflected the ball, which bounced to the left and was picked up by Tony Dye in a scrum. He bounced up and ran 24 yards for a touchdown.
The onslaught continued on Cleveland's next possession when linebacker Vontaze Burfict drilled Ogbonnaya, picked up the fumble and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown.
Mike Nugent ended the half with a 41-yard field goal, set up by Adam Jones’ 29-yard punt return.
Cincinnati's longest drive was 38 yards.
** Cincinnati’s second touchdown drive withstood a challenge by Browns coach Rob Chudzinski. Dalton threw a lateral to Sanu, who threw across the field to running back Giovani Bernard, who had gotten behind Mingo.
Bernard made the 25-yard catch to the 9-yard line and the ball came loose after he rolled over out of bounds. Chudzinski challenged that he didn’t complete the catch, but the play stood.
** Linebacker Eric Martin drew a first-quarter unnecessary roughness penalty on a kickoff that went for a sure touchback.
** Robertson left the lineup twice and was replaced by Tank Carder. Robertson’s injury was originally announced as a knee.
The rain stayed away, and the Browns jumped to a 13-0 lead over the Bengals after an exciting first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium.
Cornerback Joe Haden intercepted two straight Andy Dalton passes and returned the second one 29 yards for the first pick-six of his life and a 13-0 lead with 2:19 left in the quarter.
Dalton, who’s thrown eight interceptions in his last nine quarters, was late on a hook route to receiver A.J. Green and Haden stepped in front to make a stretching catch. He ran untouched down the left sideline.
On the previous Dalton pass, he threw wide for Green and Haden made the easy grab. That set up the second Billy Cundiff field goal. He was good from 20 and 28 yards.
The Browns (4-5) have the health advantage heading into today’s pivotal AFC North game against the Bengals (6-4) at Paul Brown Stadium.
Backup tight end MarQueis Gray (hamstring) is the only injured inactive for Cleveland, while the Bengals will be without starting right guard Kevin Zeitler (foot), starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee), nickelback Chris Crocker (hamstring) and backup defensive tackle Devon Still (elbow).
The rain stopped late this morning, but is expected to return for the game and pick up substantially in the second half. The wind should be strong throughout.
The potentially dangerous weather may alter the Browns’ return to Berea. They have a contingency plan to bus home if they’re not able to fly.
Browns guard Jason Pinkston is active for the first time this season. He suffered a high ankle sprain Aug. 15 in the preseason and was recently activated from short-term injured reserve. He will be a reserve.
In addition to Gray, the Browns’ inactives are linebacker Brandon Magee, offensive linemen Patrick Lewis, Martin Wallace, Garrett Gilkey and Reid Fragel and nose tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen.
The other Cincinnati inactives are halfback Rex Burkhead, guard Tanner Hawkinson and receiver Ryan Whalen.
Mike Pollak will start in place of Zeitler, and Vincent Rey for Maualuga.
The Browns have no changes to their starting lineup. Gray has served as the Wildcat quarterback and could be replaced by receiver Armanti Edwards.
The Browns will wear white jerseys and brown pants, while the Bengals are in orange tops, white bottoms.
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