CLEVELAND -- While Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow couldn't get his high-flying offense on track Monday night at FirstEnergy Stadium, Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett steered Cleveland to the 32-13 AFC North victory they badly needed.
Sacking Burrow five times and blanking him in the first three quarters, the Browns snapped their four-game losing streak and left the 4-4 Bengals winless in three AFC North contests.
Down 25-0, Burrow threw touchdown passes of 13 yards to wide receiver Tyler Boyd and 41 to a jump-ball contesting Tee Higgins. It was too little too late as Burrow finished 25 of 35 for 223 yards and none of his big-time receivers had over 50. When it rains, it pours. After a high snap, kicker Evan McPherson missed an extra point after the first touchdown.
Attrition finally caught up to the Bengals' streak of not allowing a second-half touchdown. During the game they lost starting cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (knee), and his backup, Tre Flowers left with a hamstring injury late in the third quarter after Brissett declared war on the limping secondary.
With another starting cornerback, Eli Apple (hamstring) inactive, Brissett directed three second-half touchdown drives. When running back Nick Chubb ran it in from 11 yards out with 8:46 left, Brissett had thrown his last pass and finished 17 of 22 for 278 yards. He set up that last score on a 53-yard heave to wide receiver Amari Cooper, lined up on the outside against rookie safety Dax Hill.
The vet Cooper had five catches for 131 yards and resident Bengals' killer Donovan Peoples-Jones had four catches for 81 more. Also catching up to the Bengals defense were the injuries to their top two nose tackles, D.J. Reader and Josh Tupou, as the Browns' running tandem did its damage with Chubb getting his fifth 100-yard game against the Bengals (101 on 23 carries) and Kareem Hunt adding 42 on 11 carries.
The first half hurt them on the scoreboard and the depth chart, summed up by the last 40 seconds and the curious 11-0 halftime score.
McPherson pushed a 44-yard field goal try right, just his second career miss on the road. With Awziue out and Apple inactive with a hamstring issue, Brissett went after the backups as Kareem Hunt and wide receiver David Bell gobbled up a combined 26 yards on passes over the middle and rookie Cade York hit a 55-yarder at the gun.
All the momentum the Bengals had gathered moments before vanished. Cincy linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither got his first career fumble recovery at the Bengals 49 with 1:49 left in the half. Strong safety Vonn Bell, who already had an interception earlier, split the sack with left edge Sam Hubbard and the ball popped out.
And when Burrow hit tight end Hayden Hurst for 21 yards for his first catch of the night, the Bengals had a first down on the Browns 30 with 1:03 left. But seventh-round rookie edge Isaiah Thomas shot past left tackle Jonah Williams for a sack and they had to call on McPherson.
Burrow, so hot in the last two games and off a 481-yard torch job last week, was just 15 of 20 for 103 yards in the first half that included a tipped pass for an interception on the first series and later lost a sack-strip. And this was coming on a stretch he had turned it over once in the last six games.
Higgins had just two catches for eight yards in the half (three for 49 for the game) and Boyd two for 25 (three for 38 for the game) and they ran it just six times for 19 yards and the team that had more than 530 yards of offense last week had 100 at the half.
After the Browns got the lead at 8-0 with five minutes left in the half, they blitzed and when Burrow stepped up in the pocket, blitzing linebacker Sione Takitaki got the sack and strip when he knocked the ball out of Burrow's right hand as Burrow wound up.
Burrow was trying to answer, down 8-0. The Browns finally broke open a scoreless game in the middle of the first half when Amari Cooper shook loose for two huge third-down conversions. The first one he floated through a zone for 29 yards and on the second he lined up in the slot won a back-shoulder throw for 18 yards.
The Browns running game did the rest with Chubb charging in from three yards out as the Wild Cat and when the Bengals were caught with 12 men on the field for the extra point the Browns opted to go for two. They lined up eight offensive linemen and Chubb banged in over the left side.
Burrow got them inside the Browns 30 on the first series, thanks to a 26-yard wheel route on third-and-five to running back Chris Evans frying linebacker Deion Jones down the right sideline for his second catch of the season. He also converted a third-and-seven when he found Boyd in a 14-yard vacuum.
But Garrett, who got a pressure earlier in the drive, got his hand up on the first play after that conversion and not that. A.J. Green picked off the tip at the 16.
The defense did everything they could early. On the first series defensive tackle B.J. Hill blocked York's 53-yard field-goal try. Then on the second series Bell got his fifth pick in 10 games and is now one of this year's NFL leaders with four interceptions when the Browns tried to throw a pass on Amari Cooper's end-around. Middle linebacker Logan Wilson blew up the play just as Cooper went to throw and the duck went right to Bell.
But for the third time in as many drives the Bengals couldn't convert good field position. This time from their own 48, they went three-and-out. Running back Joe Mixon went for two yards on first down, wide receiver Mike Thomas dropped a wide-open first-down ball over the middle and Burrow had to check down on third down. Mixon ran eight times for 27 yards and the Bengals could manage just 36 rushing yards on a night the backs ran nine times.
The defense followed up Bell's pick with a three-and-out of its own fueled by Hubbard, who had already split a sack with right end Trey Hendrickson on the game's first series. This time, on first down, he pinned a one-yard loss on Hunt.