ANALYSIS: 5 takeaways from Battle of Ohio mismatch

Cincinnati Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase (1) is tackled by Cleveland Browns' Greg Newsome II (20) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Caption
Cincinnati Bengals' Ja'Marr Chase (1) is tackled by Cleveland Browns' Greg Newsome II (20) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Bengals limp into bye week on heels of 41-16 loss to Cleveland

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals had a chance to go into the bye week on a major high note, but instead they will do so with the sour taste of a two-game losing streak and questions about how legit their early success was and whether they’ve already peaked.

Coming off a disappointing loss to a struggling Jets team, the Bengals were unable to show that game to be a fluke, as they followed it with their worst loss of the season.

ExplorePHOTOS: Bengals vs. Browns

The Cleveland Browns took advantage of explosive plays and turnovers to beat the Bengals 41-16 on Sunday in the Battle of Ohio at Paul Brown Stadium, bouncing back from a week full of off-field distractions and injury concerns that carried over from a stretch of three losses in four games. Cincinnati (5-4) was trying to complete a sweep of its first round of AFC North games but now falls further behind the Ravens, who beat the Vikings in overtime Sunday. The Browns are back in the mix at 5-4.

1. Not Burrow’s day

Joe Burrow had the offense moving well in the first half, but Denzel Ward’s pick-six from the 1-yard line kept the Bengals from taking the lead on the opening drive and two other drives in the first half were stalled by mistakes from his receivers.

After the teams traded touchdowns on offense, the Bengals were moving the ball in Cleveland territory looking to tie the game at 14, but Sameje Perine dropped a would-be third-down conversion and Burrow’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete as Tyler Boyd was tripped up trying to make a play. On the next drive, Ja’Marr Chase fumbled at the end of a five-yard catch, and the Browns went down for a field goal to make it a 17-point game.

Trailing 24-10 at the half, the Bengals needed to build some momentum in the third quarter but Burrow couldn’t get it done under pressure from one of the league’s best pass rushes and threw a second interception. A comeback wasn’t in the cards, and Burrow was pulled after the Browns made it 41-16 with less than five minutes left.

“I didn’t play very well,” Burrow said. “If I play better we’re in that game, we have a chance to win that game. I just didn’t play well. That’s all there is too it.”

Burrow threw for 282 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions, bringing his total picks to 11 this season. The Browns entered the game with just four takeaways through the first eight games.

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Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) is sacked by Cleveland Browns' Myles Garrett during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) is sacked by Cleveland Browns' Myles Garrett during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
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Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) is sacked by Cleveland Browns' Myles Garrett during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

2. Defense showing true colors?

The defense was surprisingly good through the first seven games, but the Bengals gave up more than 500 yards to the struggling Jets last week and a season-worst 41 points Sunday against the Browns.

Missed tackles were a problem for a second straight week, and while the Browns did a lot of the same underneath-type passes that enabled the Jets offense to be successful, they also hit Cincinnati hard on some explosive plays.

Donovan Peoples-Jones caught a 60-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage after the Bengals’ first-half turnover on downs to make it 21-7, and Nick Chubb ran for a 70-yard touchdown in the third quarter for a 21-point lead. Chubb finished with 137 yards on 14 carries.

The Browns had seven plays of 20 yards or more. The Bengals had four of those plays with a long of 26 yards.

“I know there were opportunities we had to make plays,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “This is a tough league, people will figure you out. We’ve got to adjust and make the plays. We weren’t in position to make the plays to get off the field. That’s really what it comes down to.”

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Cleveland Browns' Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) makes a touchdown reception abasing Cincinnati Bengals' Eli Apple (20) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Cleveland Browns' Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) makes a touchdown reception abasing Cincinnati Bengals' Eli Apple (20) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Caption
Cleveland Browns' Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) makes a touchdown reception abasing Cincinnati Bengals' Eli Apple (20) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Credit: Bryan Woolston

Credit: Bryan Woolston

3. Not enough protection

The Bengals were able to do some things in the running game the first half, but when the game got out of control in the second half, Burrow was forced to try to beat the Browns through the air and their defensive ends just pinned their ears back and went after him.

Burrow was sacked five times, including three from cornerback Troy Hill and 1.5 sacks by Myles Garrett, and hit 12 times; however, he didn’t blame the offensive line. Cincinnati had one change to that group with Hakeem Adeniji starting in place of Jackson Carman at right guard; however, Taylor noted that two of the sacks came from the running backs not being on top of their protections.

“That’s usually put upon the offensive line, but it’s really disappointing when those set drives back because we’re not on top of details in protection,” Taylor said. “We’ll see (on film) how Hakeem played. I have confidence in our offensive line, so I’m not going to make any knee-jerk reactions after this game. But we’ll have a chance to revisit it after the bye.”

Adeniji was just added back to the active roster Thursday after working back from a pectoral injury suffered in May. Carman had a back issue last week but was a full participant in practices and was said to be healthy.

4. Huge win for Browns

After starting out 3-1, the Browns were looking like the team people expected to be challenging for the AFC North title, but injury problems and a lack of cohesion on offense took them on a downward turn and Sunday was big step back in the right direction.

The Browns had lost three of their last four games coming into it and didn’t have the best week coming into it as Odell Beckham Jr.’s passive-aggressive complaints with how he was being used in Baker Mayfield’s passing game came to the forefront with an Instagram post from his dad. The issue ultimately led to a restructuring of Beckham’s contract so the Browns could more easily release him, and the Browns overcame that distraction Sunday.

With the dominant win, they are now back in the mix in what still seems could be a wide open AFC North race. Baltimore remains in the lead at 6-2 but needed overtime to beat the Vikings on Sunday, and the Steelers (4-3) play Monday but remain for now ahead of Cleveland (5-4) and Cincinnati (5-4).

The head-to-head result puts the Browns ahead of the Bengals.

Caption
Cleveland Browns' Denzel Ward (21) celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Cleveland Browns' Denzel Ward (21) celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Caption
Cleveland Browns' Denzel Ward (21) celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

5. Confidence shaken?

The Bengals seem to have grown complacent since their surprising win at Baltimore in Week 7, a similarly lopsided score in their favor, and now the concern is things will snowball out of control like the 2018 team that started 4-1 and won just two more games the rest of the way.

Taylor and several players after the game Sunday insist the team’s confidence is not shaken and the mistakes are correctable for the final eight games.

“We’re 5-4 at the bye, and now these guys get a chance to regroup,” Taylor said. “You’re going to see a good football team after this bye. We’ve got a lot of season left in front of us, and we just told our guys we’re going to learn from this, move on, and be a team to be reckoned with here in November and December.”

Hubbard was a part of the 2018 team that finished 6-10 after its strong start and said there is no comparison nor fear of the same fate.

“I think we’re in a totally different position, totally different locker room, and different situation,” Hubbard said. “What I saw in 2018, I have no indication that’s the direction we’re heading at all. So, no comparison.”

“(It’s different) just because of the way that we looked at each other in the eyes throughout the game, throughout the adversity and after the game, how we handled every situation,” he added. “You can tell. I’ve played football a long time and been a part of locker rooms. You can feel in your locker room when things are going toxic and guys are pointing fingers at each other, and there’s none of that.”

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