CLEVELAND - During Sunday's entertaining first half at First Energy Stadium, the Bengals intercepted Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield twice and racked up 93 more yards than Cleveland but still found themselves trailing, 14-13, at halftime.
That was largely because the Bengals, who came into the game with the fewest penalty yards in the NFL as opposed to a Browns team that had the most, committed four 15-yard infractions in the first half.
The Bengals moved the ball for 239 yards worth in the half, spurred by running back Joe Mixon's 91 total yards, 59 coming on 10 carries. Wide receiver John Ross played sparingly in his return to the lineup, maybe only a handful of snaps, but wide receiver Tyler Boyd stepped up with 67 yards on four catches.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton wasn't as sharp as last week and suffered a pick-six during a first half he was 11 of 20 for 147 yards. Mayfield was better on third down, but only had 114 yards on seven of 16 against a Bengals defense that was pretty stingy except for one series. They clamped down the run, holding NFL leading rusher Nick Chubb to seven yards on three carries.
Dalton rebounded from his pick-six and parlayed safety Jessie Bates' third interception of the season into a touchdown that gave the Bengals a 13-7 lead with 12:07 left in the first half.
Dalton converted their first third down of the day on a throw over the middle in which wide receiver Alex Erickson took a hellacious shot. Then Dalton hit a big check-down to Mixon for 26, drilled a 14-yarder to Boyd over the middle at the Browns 1 and Mixon scored the touchdown going up the middle.
Erickson had quite a quarter. He threw his first NFL pass off a double reverse for 26 yards down right sideline to running back Giovani Bernard leaking out of the backfield. That set up Randy Bullock's 44-yard field goal after cornerback Denzel Ward knocked away a pass for wide receiver Auden Tate in the end zone and on third down Sheldon Richardson got past left tackle Cordy Glenn for a sack to set up Bullock's field goal.
The Browns ended the Bengals defense's skein of 11 straight quarters without allowing a touchdown when Mayfield ripped them for three third-down conversions, the last one a seven-yard scramble he got outside linebacker Nick Vigil and hopped on the pylon, denting the Bengals' red-zone defense ranked No. 3 in the NFL with 6:37 left in the half.
While the Bengals were going 1-for-5 on third down, Mayfield was hitting four out of five. The killer was the first one, third-and-19 where that was no pressure and wide receiver Jarvis Landry was open over the middle. Same thing on third-and-six. No pressure and wide receiver Odell Beckham was wide open for 21 yards before Mayfield wriggled in for the touchdown.
The Bengals finally broke the third-down magic on the next series when Bates converged on Beckham and broke it up and they really needed it after Kevin Huber's knuckler of a punt went 26 yards net and put the Browns at the Bengals 46.
But they got a huge play when safety Shawn Williams' blitz forced Mayfield to step up and right end Carl Lawson got the sack.
But the Bengals couldn't convert. On second-and-three, Dalton took a shot at Mixon running a route down the sideline and he had linebacker Mack Wilson beat, but he had to make an adjustment and Wilson knocked it away at the last instant. Then on third-and-three, Dalton had nowhere to go when Wilson was all over a route to Erickson in the middle of the field and basically Dalton threw it away.
They had a golden chance to get points in the last minute when Huber dropped one inside the 10 and the Browns went three-and-out and the Bengals would have had the ball at about their 40 after the punt. But rookie wide receiver Stanley Morgan was called for face-mask penalty, shoving them back to their 18 and the whole thing blew up to end the half when Tate was called for their fourth 15-yard penalty of the half, a blind-side block.
Dalton also had Erickson wide open on a double move down the right side-line, but couldn't keep him on the field.
The Bengals took a tough one penalty and watched the Browns turn it into Ward's 61-yard pick off Dalton's errant pass to give Cleveland a 7-0 lead with 5:36 left in the first quarter.
It was unfortunate. The Bengals had a 3-0 lead when Bengals linebacker Nick Vigil wrenched the ball out of the hands of tight end David Njoku's belly at the Bengals 15 and carried it the other way 34 yards and Mixon promptly bulled off left tackle for 12 yards. But Dalton got pressure on a first-down for an incompletion and after his two-yard run, Mixon got in cornerback Greedy Williams' face and was called for unnecessary roughness. On the third-and-long, Dalton threw a bad ball, high and behind Tate and Tate could only tip it. It bounced right to Ward for his first interception of the season and he was gone down the left sideline.
The Bengals picked up their third 15-yard penalty of the first quarter on their second turnover of the day. Mayfield threw it too high to KhaDrel Hodge, cornerback B.W. Webb tipped it and Bates hauled it in and took it to the Browns 20. But it came all the way back to the Bengals 40 when cornerback Darqueze Dennard was called for a blind-side block.
The Bengals offered two chunk plays on their first two snaps. Dalton tried to go deep to Ross on the first play, had enough time to take a long look and chose to thread it through middle linebacker Joe Schobert and his help to to Boyd for 21 yards across the middle. Then Mixon got loose for 26 yards when he started behind left tackle and broke untouched outside.
Dalton had plenty of time to also hit Boyd on a slant for 14 yards, but on third-and three from the Cleveland 5, Dalton threw it away into the back of the end zone and was called for intentional grounding, but Bullock hit a 34-yard field goal to give them a 3-0 lead.
The game began with a brisk 16 mile-per-hour wind coming off the lake gusting up to 30 miles per hour.