CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals failed to win yet another game decided by five points or less, the fifth time that has occurred in seven games this season.
This time, rookie quarterback Joe Burrow gave the Bengals a three-point lead over the Cleveland Browns with 1:06 left, but it wasn’t enough to get the win. Baker Mayfield continued his hot streak throwing the ball and threw the game-winning touchdown to Donovan Peoples-Jones with 11 seconds left.
A Hail Mary was tipped into the end zone toward A.J. Green, but he was unable to come up with the catch with the clock expired and the Browns left Paul Brown Stadium with a 37-34 win Sunday in the Battle of Ohio finale. The Bengals fell to 1-5-1, while Cleveland moved to 5-2.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Dreadful defense
Mayfield bounced back from a game in which he was benched and had his way with the Bengals defense, picking apart a depleted secondary that was missing cornerback William Jackson because of concussion.
The Browns quarterback started the day 0-for-5 through the first quarter, but then completed 21 straight from the second quarter until the last drive when he spiked the ball for his first incompletion before throwing the 24-yard pass to Peoples-Jones in the endzone.
Mayfield, who faced little pressure and had no sacks, finished 22-of-28 passing for 297 yards and five straight touchdowns to end the game.
“We definitely got to do better, obviously get some pressure on the quarterback and also on the back end as well,” linebacker Josh Bynes said. “I think we could have done a better job of coverage as well. And you know like you said backing up weeks of giving up big plays in the passing game. And that’s what it came down to another big play, right at the end to win the game. They went for it and got it, a heck of a game by them. Obviously both are players, but in the end Baker got the win and that’s all that matters."
2. Offensive shootout
While the Browns were scoring every drive of the second half – and their last full drive before halftime – the difference in the game ended up being two Bengals possessions that ended in field goals instead.
After Cleveland tied the game at 17 on the first drive of the third quarter, Cincinnati nearly got a touchdown from Green on a third-and-4 that Burrow fumbled the snap and had to improvise. He found Green in the end zone, but Denzel Ward came in and ripped it away at the last second to knock it incomplete. Randy Bullock made the 23-yard field goal for a 20-17 advantage, and the Browns took their first lead the next drive.
Burrow was sacked on third down in the other red zone chance that ended in a field goal early in the second quarter.
“We kicked some field goals down there (in the red zone), that ended up being the difference in the game,” Burrow said. “And we turned the ball over. I think we ended up scoring on every drive in the second half, but we just have to score touchdowns every time instead of field goals.”
3. Too much time left
The Bengals defense has struggled all season to come up with stops at the end of halves, so it was concerning how much time was left on the clock when the Bengals scored to take a 34-31 lead with 1:06 left.
Mackensie Alexander was grabbing onto Mayfield’s leg as he completed a pass on the first play of the Browns' final drive, but a sack there could have changed the outcome. He connected with Peoples-Jones for a 13-yard gain. The next play was an 8-yard pass to Rashard Higgins, which had to be reviewed before the catch was confirmed, and then he went deep to Higgins on a 30-yard pass to set up the touchdown after a first-down spike.
Cody Parkey missed the extra point but there was only time for one play for the Bengals offense, starting from their own 42.
“At end of the day we did what needed to be done,” wide receiver Tyler Boyd said of the time left when the Bengals last scored. “We scored and left a minute or so on the clock. If we would have pulled that sack off at the beginning of the drive on the first play that would have been the game-cha
4. Burrow’s big day
Burrow got off to a slow start like Mayfield, including an interception and a fumble in the first half, but finished with 400 yards passing for the first time in his career and became the fourth rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300 yards or more in at least five games.
He threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns, completing 35 of 47 passes with the one interception, and two of his touchdowns came in the two-minute drill at the end of the halves with key offensive linemen out.
Center Trey Hopkins and left tackle Jonah Williams exited right before the final drive of the first half because of a concussion and neck injury, respectively, and neither returned. Right tackle Bobby Hart left with an undisclosed injury on the last full drive, so that meant Burrow’s last touchdown came behind a line that featured Fred Johnson at left tackle, Billy Price at center and rookie Hakeem Adeniji at right tackle.
Running back Joe Mixon also missed the game with a foot injury, and the Bengals had just 81 yards on 21 carries. Tyler Boyd led the receivers with 101 yards, while Green added 82 yards on six catches.
5. Pulling the team together
While the Bengals were trying to sort through another tough loss, defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who has been disgruntled about being benched from his starting role, was taking to social media about his home being up for sale. He was seen on the sideline at the end of the game yelling at a coach, with Green trying to step in and calm things down as Dunlap walked away.
Despite all the drama, the rest of the team seems to be trying to pull together. Bernard defended coach Taylor for all he’s had to deal with, outside of coaching and calling the offense.
Taylor said the team is handling the Dunlap situation internally, and he’s focused on tying to get wins.
“Stick together,” Taylor said regarding his message after the game.“You could tell it was an emotional locker room afterward for the right reasons. It’s guys, that moment after in the locker room — it’s tough to find those words (to say to them), because you totally felt like you were going to win and you (didn’t). That has happened to us a couple times. This is a team that believes it can put together a winning streak — one game, two games, three games, four games, five games — we believe in it. We just we just haven’t done it. We haven’t proven it to the outside world, but we’re going to stick together. I can promise you that. It’s a group of men I’m proud to coach. We’re going to get through this, we’re going to stick together, (and) there’s much better days ahead.”
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