The Cincinnati Bengals lost by eight points to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, but they never really looked like they belonged within reach.
Cleveland had a 23-0 lead before the Bengals (6-9) finally got on the board early in the fourth quarter, and they managed to get back in the game in the final five minutes, despite giving up just under 500 yards on defense and finishing with just 209 yards of offense.
The Browns (7-7-1) got one big play just before the two-minute warning and that was enough to seal a 26-18 win at FirstEnergy Stadium, giving Cleveland the series sweep for the first time since 2002.
Here is a look at the Week 16 report card grades:
The Good: Running back Joe Mixon topped 1,000 yards rushing for the season, and all four players who ran the ball averaged 4.0 yards or more per carry.
The Bad: The Browns knew the Bengals were going to be without their top two receivers and stacked the box with nine, sometimes 10 players to try to shut down the run. Mixon finished with just 68 yards on 17 carries after coming off back-to-back 100-yard performances in which he had 26 and 27 attempts. The Bengals had four rushes that went for losses.
Key Play: After John Ross ran for seven yards on first down of Cincinnati’s second drive, Mixon had a loss of six yards and the Bengals went three-and-out. That set the tone for the day.
The Good: Jeff Driskel bounced back from a dismal first half and was much more efficient in the second half to help Cincinnati rally. Cody Core and Alex Erickson both had catches of at least 27 yards. C.J. Uzomah caught four passes for 49 yards and a touchdown, and John Ross recorded his seventh touchdown of the season.
The Bad: Driskel completed just 2 of 6 passes for 3 yards in the first half, as the Bengals managed just four first downs and no third-down conversions. Ross had just one catch on five targets.
Key Play: After the Bengals successfully converted a fourth-and-1 on a fake punt in the first quarter, Driskel was sacked for a big loss on third-and-4 and Cincinnati ended up punting it away anyway.
The Good: The Bengals stopped the run on the first two drives as the teams played a scoreless first quarter.
The Bad: Nick Chubb broke through for a 22-yard carry at the end of the first quarter and suddenly the Browns were moving the ball. He finished with 112 yards on 19 carries for an average of 5.9 yards per carry.
Key Play: Baker Mayfield scrambled for a first down on third-and-8 on the first drive of the fourth quarter, and Marvin Lewis unsuccessfully challenged the first down ruling. The Browns went on to kick a field goal to extend their lead to 26-3 with 7:29 left, and the drive ate up more than seven minutes.
The Good: The Bengals held the Browns to a field goal and then a three-and-out on the first two drives of the fourth quarter with good coverage on pass plays to give the offense a chance to come back.
The Bad: Five receivers had 47 yards or more, and Mayfield finished with 284 yards passing and three touchdowns with no interceptions and no sacks. Big plays killed Cincinnati, including a 66-yard pass play on the final drive that allowed the Browns to then run out the clock.
Key Play: After taking a 7-0 lead in the second quarter and forcing a three-and-out, the Browns quickly got back to the red zone when Jarvis Landry threw a 63-yard pass to Brandon Perriman on a gadget play. Cleveland added to its lead two plays later to make it 13-0.
The Good: The Bengals blocked a punt and successfully converted on a fake punt. There were no penalties on special teams. Randy Bullock made a 51-yard field goal.
The Bad: Alex Erickson only had one chance to return a punt and couldn’t break through for any big kick returns.
Key Play: Clayton Fejedelem, who ran for the first down on the fake punt the first drive, blocked a punt in the fourth quarter to put the Bengals on the 23-yard line and allow them to make it an eight-point game with three minutes left.
The Good: The Bengals remained aggressive in their play calling, and they managed to come back and make it a game late when many teams might have folded. Cincinnati had just three penalties.
The Bad: With the top two receivers out and the team already eliminated from the playoffs, Sunday was a chance to give young guys like seventh-round draft pick Auden Tate and unused Josh Malone a chance to show what they could do. They combined to play just four snaps on offense.
Key Play: Cincinnati didn’t try an onside kick after scoring to make it 26-18 with 2:56 left, and the Browns were able to get two first downs and then run out the clock.