CLEVELAND - With the Bengals offense scoring only one touchdown in five red-zone trips to cancel out running back Joe Mixon's career-high 146 yards Sunday and 186 overall, the Browns finally unleashed NFL rushing leader Nick Chubb in the second half during Cincinnati's highly frustrating 27-19 loss at First Energy Stadium.
Chubb, held to seven yards on three carries in the first half, broke through a host of tackles for a 57-yard run in the middle of the field in the first moments of the second half. That set up Kareem Hunt's three-yard run to an unguarded left perimeter for a touchdown that gave Cleveland a 21-13 lead just 2:50 into the second half.
Safety Jessie Bates III appeared to get his second interception of the game and the Bengals' third with 4:58 left in the game when cornerback William Jackson III tipped a pass headed to Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Bates made a diving catch at the Cleveland 16. But in reviewing the turnover, Jackson was called for pass interference, giving the Bengals 99 yard of penalties.
That was it. While the Browns were killing the clock, the Bengals gave up a 34-yard-catch-and-run to wide receiver Jarvis Landry that looked like a semi screen with 2:33 left.
The poor red-zone effort spoiled a great effort by Mixon and a defense that was pretty solid except for allowing those chunk plays. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield didn't do much. He was 11 of 24 for 192 yards while his running game accounted 146. Plus, the Bengals had 451 yards compared to the Browns' 331. Quarterback Andy Dalton, stripped of another weapon in the second half, could only manage a 22 of 38 passing day for 262 yards and a 68.1 passer rating. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd was his top target with five catches for 75 yards.
But the Bengals' wide receiving corps took another shot in the middle of the third quarter when Auden Tate, their second leading receiver, limped off the field with a knee injury during a curious drive inside the Cleveland 2. (It was Tate's first catch of the day and it went for 16 yards.)
Mixon, as he did all day, got them down there with five carries for 40 yards on a drive that began at their own 14 after their fifth 15-yard penalty of the day. This one capped off the frustration of a day they continued a season-long trend that has them 28th in touchdown percentage.
First they had a third and inches from the 3 and tried a pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah, who was double covered and it nearly got picked off. Mixon shoved it inside the 2 on fourth down to give them a first down.
But on first down they went up top even though Tate was out and Mixon had 99 yards on 15 carries at that point. Left tackle Cordy Glenn couldn't handle Bryan Cox and he sacked Dalton for a loss back to the 10. No one was open on second and third down with the third-down throw headed to rookie Stanley Morgan in the reduced receiving corps. They had to settle for Randy Bullock's 28-yard field goal with 4:39 left in the third quarter to cut Cleveland's lead to 21-16.
The Browns went right back to that running game and grounded out 40 yards mostly on the ground to get rookie kicker Austin Seibert's first 50-yard NFL field goal, a 53-yarder that got the lead back to eight, 24-16, with 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
It was that kind of frustrating day. If it wasn't a red-zone failure, it was crushing penalty by the team that came into the game with the NFL's fewest penalty yards.
Down, 24-16, Mixon kept them in it as the game lurched into the middle of the fourth quarter. He broke right and took off for a 35-yard gain sprinting down the right side, but wide receiver John Ross was called for a hold (giving them 94 yards in penalties. That was a 27-yard flag. The Bengals were on the Browns 8, but ended back up at the 35.
Still, still. The Bengals got it back down to the 4, thanks to Boyd's obligatory third-down catch and Mixon's magical jump cut for seven yards gave them a first down at the 7. But he could only get three on the first two downs and on third down Dalton had to unload it when linebacker Mack Wilson blitzed unchecked.
Then on fourth down, head coach Zac Taylor opted to go for it and it ended up being an unsuccessful quarterback draw, making it five red-zone trips and just one touchdown.
During Sunday's entertaining first half, the Bengals intercepted 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 Mixon's 91 total yards, 59 coming on ten carries. Wide receiver John Ross played sparingly in his return to the lineup, maybe only a handful of snaps, but Boyd stepped up with 67 yards on four catches. Ross finished with two catches for 28 yards on three targets.
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 Chubb to seven yards on three carries.
Dalton rebounded from his pick-six and parlayed 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 the right sideline to running back Giovani Bernard leaking out of the backfield. That set up Bullock's 44-yard field goal after cornerback Denzel Ward knocked away a pass for Tate in the end zone and on third down Sheldon Richardson got past 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 Landry was open over the middle. Same thing on third-and-six. No pressure and 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 their lone sack of the day.
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 Mack Wilson beat, but Mixon 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 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 penalty early 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 Vigil wrenched the ball out 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 next snap third-and-23, 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 43 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 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.
Check out the game photos from the "Battle of Ohio" as the Bengals face the Browns in Week 14.