But Dalton's biggest third-and-six completion came with just under four minutes left when he hit tight end
That set up
Running back Trent Richardson, becoming the first Browns rookie to rush for 100 yards in a game since Lee Suggs put 186 on the Bengals in the 2003 finale, shredded Cincinnati for 109 yards and his remarkable 23-yard touchdown run off a dump pass on the last play from scrimmage in the third quarter cut the lead to 24-17.
But enter Hawkins. After old friend Frostee Rucker dumped Dalton for a 10-yard loss, the Bengals were staring at third-and-long from the 50. Dalton got chased out of the pocket toward the right sideline. But he saw Hawkins in the middle of the field working in space against cornerback Tevin Wade and threw it back across his body. Hawkins caught it for the first down coming across the middle to the sideline and then he took off up the side and made a hellacious cut at about the 20 back to the middle of the field to finish it off with 10:44 left in the game.
Weeden, who had a 114.9 passer rating and 322 yards of his own, had his way against the Bengals secondary and cut the gap to 24-17 when no one covered Browns wide receiver Greg Little on a 24-yard touchdown pass with 7:11 left.
The Bengals took a 17-10 halftime lead, but it could have been more.
With the clock ticking under four minutes in the first half, Browns running back Chris Ogbbonnaya beat Maualuga in the middle of the field on a dump pass over the middle and he turned it into a big play before Bengals cornerback
But Gresham, flagged for a false start on the first Bengals snap of the game, was called for a hold this time and the drive ended in a punt.
That came on the heels of a Bengals foray into the red zone when rookie wide receiver
But right tackle
That's how it looked for both the Bengals offense and defense in the first half. Sometimes very good and sometimes not. Dalton led a crisp touchdown drive early in the second quarter ignited when he floated a beauty down the left sideline on second-and-11 to wide receiver
The Browns, without starting cornerbacks Joe Haden (NFL suspension) and Sheldon Brown, did a great job in the first half shadowing the Bengals receivers downfield and forcing Dalton to hold the ball in the pocket and blanking the Bengals on all five third-down tries in the half.
But after the 20-yarder to Binns, Dalton hit Green for his first catch of the day with 12 minutes left in the second quarter on a 12-yard slant over the middle.
On the next snap Green, lined up wide right, stopped short and caught a quick ball in front of cornerback Dimitri Patterson, and when he made a move inside he beat Patterson to the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown with 10:27 left in the quarter that made it 14-3.
The Bengals defense that had been so good in the first quarter then had a blip. Richardson, held to 39 yards in his debut last week with a long of nine, got 32 yards all at once on a touchdown run with 8:05 left in the first half that cut Cincinnati's lead to 14-10. Richardson took a delayed handoff behind his right guard untouched and he didn't have a linebacker near him at the second level and all Richardson had to do was outrun everybody into the end zone.
Dalton, the victim of three coverage sacks in the half, went 9-of-14 for 102 yards with the TD for a passer rating of 109.8. Weeden, so much better Sunday than he was last week in his four-pick debut, didn't throw one in the first half and was 9-of-15 for 121 yards and was greatly helped by Richardson's 83 yards on 13 carries.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Bengals showdown with Cleveland special teams Pro Bowler Josh Cribbs when the forgotten Adam Jones knocked off six-year-old cobwebs and returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in the game's first 1:47 to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead with the sellout crowd barely in the seats.
Jones made anywhere between five and seven tacklers miss up the left sideline and accelerated the last 20 yards behind a pancake block from safety
Jones had been hurt all preseason with tight hamstrings and quads and didn't do any returning except in rehab, and wide receiver Brandon Tate took all the returns in Monday night's opener. But after right end Michael Johnson's sack working against Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, Jones trotted out to take Reggie Hodges's punt.
Plus, Miles moved into
The new look held up early. A blitz by cornerback Leon Hall forced a third-down incompletion and the Browns had to settle for Phil Dawson's 50-yard field goal that cut the lead to 7-3 midway through the first quarter.
PREGAME NOTES: Because the season-ending ACL injury to WILL backer Thomas Howard came so late in the week, the special teams are going to bear the brunt of it for the Bengals on Sunday in the Paul Brown Stadium opener against the Browns.
The Bengals not only had their best linebacker iced Sunday, but their best outside pass rusher, left end
Lewis also indicated it's going to be a three-headed replacement for Howard among rookie Vontaze Burfict and two special teams standouts in
Look for those three to divide up Howard's snaps in relation to what the Browns are running and how much gas they're expending on special teams.
Lewis called Howard's injury "freak," and indications are it was similar to a non-contact injury. Apparently during the non-padded practice when he was blitzing a blocker lightly pushed him aside and he went down.
It's been a remarkable rise for Burfict after he came out of Arizona State undrafted with questions about his composure and weight following a terrible NFL scouting combine. But he dropped 15 pounds and has responded well in every way with the coaches impressed by his football instincts and knowledge of the playbook. He apparently knows it well enough that he's able to start at a spot that isn't his primary position.
Scott being inactive is an intriguing element in this one. Although the Browns gave up 110 yards in 20 LeSean McCoy carries last week in their loss to Philadelphia and they finished 30th against the rush last season, Cleveland is stout up the middle. Middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson led all NFL players with 94 tackles against the run last year and tackle Ahtyba Rubin has led all interior linemen in tackles since 2010.
But they've been hurt on the edge, which is where the speed back Scott has done damage.
Although wide receiver Armon Binns had been named the starter during the week, Brandon Tate was announced. The game captains were Jeromy Miles, Nate Clements, Andre Smith, Jermaine Gresham and