In true AFC North fashion against a backdrop only the Weather Channel could love in a blustery, on-again, off-again second-half rain, the 7-4 Bengals seized control of the division with a 41-20 victory over the Browns courtesy of defense and special teams before a drip-dry gathering of 63,856 at sold-out Paul Brown Stadium.
A deflected punt, a blocked punt for a touchdown, and a 13-yard forced fumble for a touchdown by WILL linebacker
Sunday's win, coupled with Baltimore's overtime loss to the Bears and Pittsburgh's win over Detroit, gives the Bengals a two-and-a-half game lead over all three teams with remaining North games at Pittsburgh and at home against Baltimore in the season-finale.
Even though they went into the fourth quarter just one-of-11 on third down with less than 150 yards of offense and quarterback
That gave the Bengals enough time to finally get their running game going in an effort to protect an 11-point lead. With the desperate Browns sending the house, running back
The three TDs cushioned his worst passing output in a complete game, just 93 yards on 13-of-27 passing. How bizarre was this one? The Bengals scored 41 points despite just two catches for career-low seven yards by wide receiver
The Bengals showed the luxury of relentless defense and special teams in Sunday's first half when they scored touchdowns on a blocked punt and a fumble recovery in a span of 1:25 to fuel a franchise-record 31 unanswered points in the second quarter and a 31-13 halftime lead.
The Browns cut it to 31-20 when Browns quarterback Jason Campbell threw a beautiful 74-yard bomb to wide receiver Josh Gordon racing down the left sideline past cornerback
And just after Gordon scored the skies opened up in the predicted monsoon and it went on and off the rest of the game.
DiManche's block bookended two field-goal blocks by left end
Adding to the deluge, Burfict smoked running back Chris Ogbonnaya on a checkdown pass, forced the fumble, scooped it up, and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown that made it 28-13 with 2:45 left in the half.
The inspired play took Dalton and his struggling offense off a very big hook as the Bengals were trying to take a 2.5-game lead on the Browns and Ravens in the AFC North with five games to play.
Before the offense could get a first down, one of Dalton's two first-quarter interceptions went for cornerback Joe Haden's pick-six as the Browns shot to a 13-0 lead late in the first quarter.
But as usual, defense and special teams saved the day and Dalton got it back on the rails soon enough to throw two touchdowns to suddenly give the Bengals an improbable 14-13 lead with 11:49 left in the first half. Somehow, the Bengals had 31 points even though Dalton finished the half just 8-of-18 for 63 yards and a passer rating of 51.2.
A remarkable effort by SAM linebacker
Then moments later, Williams partially blocked a punt to give the Bengals the ball at the Cleveland 38. Now enter wide receiver
He took a lateral from Dalton on a sweep left, stopped, launched his second NFL pass all the way across the field to Bernard, and dropped it in perfectly as Bernard went out of bounds at the Browns 9 for a 25-yard completion. Much like Sanu's first NFL pass, a 78-yard touchdown pass last season.
Then on third-and-goal from the 6, Sanu lined up in the slot and beat safety T.J. Ward to the right corner, where Sanu made a leaping touchdown catch to set up Nugent's go-ahead extra point.
Harrison actually scored a touchdown on his pick, a 21-yard return he capped off bowling over center Alex Mack at the Browns 5 and then dragging him into the end zone. But defensive tackle
The Browns could manage just 141 yards of offense in the half, but it dwarfed Cincinnati's 108. The Bengals hounded Campbell for two sacks (Kirkpatrick blitzing off the slot and left end Carlos Dunlap), forced Campbell's first interception of the year, and left Campbell 13-of-24 passing for 64 yards in the half.
The beat went on for Dalton in the first quarter of the Bengals biggest game of the season when his two interceptions in the first 12 minutes staked the Browns to a 13-0 lead and gave him eight interceptions in the last 10 quarters.
Back to-back passes to Green were picked off by Haden, the last a 29-yard touchdown return that left the sold-out crowd stunned until it started to boo the offense on its next series, trailing 13-0.
On the next series the Bengals proceeded to:
» On first down have a checkdown pass tipped at the line of scrimmage by defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin.
» On second down had left tackle
» On second down, Gresham dropped a pass.
» On third down a checkdown pass to Bernard was far short of the first down.
The Browns, 26th running the ball in the NFL, weren't supposed to run it against the Bengals but they got their longest run of the season from scrimmage by a running back on Ogbonnaya's 43-yarder that set up Billy Cundiff's 20-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 4:10 left in the first quarter.
But it was a patented Bengals goal-line stand as the defense blunted the Browns on first-and-goal from the 2 after Burfict picked up his team-high ninth penalty when it was ruled he pushed Mack after the whistle.
But on second down Campbell had to overthrow tight end Jordan Cameron because of linebacker
The Bengals special teams made themselves felt early.
But the Browns and their fifth-best NFL defense gave nothing early and sent the Bengals packing on their second straight third-and-out. Trying to protect Dalton against the Browns pass rush, running back BenJarvis Green-Ellis churned six yards on two carries against the stingy Cleveland run defense and facing a third-and-four, Dalton took a shot at Green but he was stoned a yard shy of the first down when he was immediately taken down in bracket coverage by Haden and a safety.
PREGAME NOTES: Veteran offensive lineman
SAM linebacker James Harrison (calf) who missed Friday's practice after working all week, was listed as questionable but was active.
Also out were nickel back Chris Crocker (hamstring) and wide receiver
Practice squad safety Tony Dye, a first-year player, replaced cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris on the roster when the Bengals waived Lewis-Harris on Saturday and he made his NFL debut on the active sheet.
Pollak, a six-year man signed in the offseason, had 41 starts for the Colts, primarily at left guard. With Crocker out, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick figures to draw Browns wide receiver Davone Bess in the slot.
The rain appeared to stop as kickoff neared, but the heavy stuff with potential thunderstorms was forecast to come in after halftime with the severe weather predicted for after 4 p.m. Winds out of the south and east at 15 to 20 miles per hour were to gust up to 35 miles per hour at times. The wind was at seven miles-per-hour during pregame.
BROWN ON MCCORMACK: The death of Browns Hall of Famer Mike McCormack, also a former Bengals assistant coach, hit Bengals president Mike Brown close to home.
"Mike was the last of my true football heroes," Brown said. "He was a captain of the old Browns and he represented everything a captain should. He was a great player and great person off the field. The NFL never made them better than Mike."