The Browns manhandled Sunday's Battle of Ohio with a devastating recipe of long plays on both sides of the ball that left the AFC North anyone's division in a crunching 41-16 victory over the Bengals.
On a day Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow threw two interceptions to become the NFL leader, one of them set the day's tone when Browns cornerback Denzel Ward stepped in front of rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase on a third-down pass and went 99 yards with a pick-six.
That was just one of three turnovers and then the Browns offense stunned a Bengals defense already reeling from giving up 520 yards against the Jets last week. Quarterback Baker Mayfield gave them a 21-7 lead on a wide-open 60-yard touchdown pass to Bengals killer Donovan Peoples-Jones (Odell Beckham, Jr., who?) and running back Nick Chubb delivered the hammer early in the third quarter with a 70-yard touchdown run that made it 34-10.
Mayfield, with a 132 passer rating that was 21 points better than his career rating against Cincinnati, jacked his record to 6-1 against the Bengals when he again sifted them. This time for 14 of 21 for 218 yards and two touchdown passes despite a torn-up non-throwing shoulder.
Burrow, pulled with less than five minutes left, didn't throw a touchdown pass for the first time all season and saw his Bengals record of eight straight games with at least two touchdown passes end on a season-low 69 rating: A season-high 40 passes went for 28 completions and 288 yards.
It was a stunning two-week reversal. Just 14 days ago the Bengals were riding high at 5-2 from a 41-17 victory in Baltimore after huge division wins over the Steelers and Ravens. Now they're 5-4 and in a 2-1 tractor pull in the AFC. The Browns, who were 0-1 in the division, hadn't scored 20 points in a month.
Chubb and his offensive line took over the game in the second half the way the Bengals wanted to take it over with running back Joe Mixon. But it was Chubb following pulling right guard Wyatt Teller for the 70-yarder taking out free safety Jessie Bates III while avoiding old friend Larry Ogunjobi at defensive tackle after Ogunjobi, the former Brown, broke into the backfield.
Chubb enjoyed his fourth 100-yard game against the Bengals when he ripped them for 137 yards on just 14 carries in vintage Chubb fashion bouncing off Bengals when they didn't wrap up. Mixon was the most productive Bengals with 110 yards, but just 64 were on the ground on 13 carries.
With such a big lead, the Browns' big-time pass rush that had generated the third most sacks per pass in the NFL was able to unload with no remorse. Early in the second half, left tackle Jonah Williams, who had held up well, gave up NFL leading sacker Myles Garrett's first full sack of the day to end the first drive of the second half and the Browns started to smell blood with a pass rush that netted five sacks, two by former Bengals cornerback Troy Hill, and a total of 12 hits.
The pick-six was a harbinger of things to come for Burrow and Chase. Down, 34-10, Chase dropped a long touchdown pass in the end zone when he couldn't corral it over his shoulder and down 34-16 early in the fourth quarter, Chase had a step on cornerback Greg Newsome II and Burrow lofted it in front of him but he couldn't bring it in.
The Bengals racked up 141 yards on 20 plays and Burrow was nine of 13 for 113 yards before Mayfield even touched the ball with four minutes left in the first quarter. But they were only tied at seven because of that crushing pick-six.
The Bengals came out crisp, rolling up 71 yards on their first drive. Burrow hit five of seven for 66 yards (five straight to open), including a 20-yarder to Higgins off a flea flicker and an 11-yarder to Higgins over the middle on third down on his way to a team-high 78 yards. They even avoided a third-down sack inside the 10 when the Browns went offsides for the second time in the drive.
But on third down from the 3, Burrow tried to hit Chase at the goal line on an out at the front pylon and Ward was all over it. He jumped in front of Chase and went down the left side for 99 yards, needing only a cutback that sent Burrow sprawling on the second-pick six he's allowed this season.
But this why the packed Paul loves Burrow. He came right back with another drive, hitting four of six and Mixon made a jump cut on a sweep and went in untouched for an 11-yard touchdown run.
But Chubb killed them when they finally did get the ball. They couldn't find him on the right sideline, leaving him wide open for a 23-yard catch. They also let him get loose for runs of 11 and 22 yards, the latter coming when Chubb followed blocking on his left edge popped by tight end Harrison Bryant's block on linebacker Germaine Pratt.
Still, the Bengals appeared to hold them to a field-goal try when Mayfield overthrew tight end Austin Hooper on third-and-four, but safety Ricardo Allen got called for pass interference and Chubb knifed in for the touchdown.
On the game's first drive that didn't end up in a touchdown, the Browns stopped the Bengals on fourth-and-three from the Cleveland 40. That came after Burrow got sacked on a blitz by Hill on a play-action fake. He got 16 back to Higgins during his 67-yard first half, but running back Samaje Perine dropped a low, catchable pass on third down that would have been a first down.
The Bengals went for it, but Burrow got chased out of the pocket on a blitz for an incompletion.
On the next snap Peoples-Jones ran right by cornerback Eli Apple and he played wide-open-pitch-and-catch with the unmolested Mayfield for a 60-yard touchdown and just five minutes into the second quarter the Browns had knocked the Bengals defense flat.
That meant the unit that went into New York ranked 10th in the NFL last week had just allowed points for the seventh straight drive that excluded the Jets' last drive of the game. It also meant they had just given up 14 points in just ten snaps.
The hits just kept coming to haunt the Bengals' coveted 1-2 punch. After a quick throw to Chase, safety John Johnson got a shoulder pad under Chase's arm and the ball popped loose for the Bengals' first lost fumble since the second game of the season.
That set up a field goal that made it 24-7. Burrow used the rest of the half to get points, but they could only manage Evan McPherson's chip shot field goal once they got into the red zone. The ubiquitous Ward got a hand in to break up a high pass that Higgins nearly came down with for a touchdown.
That cut the lead to 24-10, but that was their third trip into the red zone in the half, meaning they left 11 points on the board, just like the 11 red-points they left in New York last week.
Burrow had a big half on 18 of 26 for 199 yards, but the pick-six loomed large. Mayfield, preening without OBJ, controlled the day needing to complete just seven of eight passes in the half.
In the first half the Bengals lost their best special-teamer, kick returner Brandon Wilson, with what looked to be a serious knee injury. They also lost linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither for the game with a foot injury.