The devil was in the details Sunday and Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield put a very accurate pitchfork into the Bengals’ bid to get back into the AFC North race when he dealt them a 35-20 loss at Paul Brown Stadium.
With Mayfield catching the Bengals off guard with four-receiver sets on the way posting the second highest passer rating ever against the Marvin Lewis Bengals (143.9) and the offense stalling with three false starts on one drive when they had the chance to make it a one-score game on a day they filled with 13 penalties and a wayward shot-gun snap that wounded the quarterback, details were missing as Lewis could only plead with his team “Do your job.”
“Everybody has to self-reflect,” said left end Carlos Dunlap, who had the lone Bengal sack of the day until it was negated by a holding call on middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict, which pretty much summed up the day.
“We’re in a tough spot. We’re under performing. There’s too many reasons why,” Dunlap said. “None of us are doing a good enough job. Make sure you emphasize ‘us.’”
Lewis certainly did. To be fair, he didn’t blame his dirty dozen injured reserve list or Andy Dalton’s sudden and final exit with a squished throwing thumb. After his second game calling plays got torched by Mayfield’s four touchdown passes, he took responsibility for his team’s slow start but called on his players to focus on the task at hand.
“We’ve got to bear down. We’ve just got to bear down and relax. We don’t have to press,” Lewis said. “We’ve just got to bear down and relax and get it done. I’ve got to do my job. I’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to prepare them better. They’ve got to go out, and they’ve got to execute their jobs better. Okay? It rests squarely on me.”
It was not a pleasant afternoon. The Browns, coached by a man suspended for his role in the infamous “Bountygate,” scandal six years ago, had his team chippy and prepared.
As they taunted the Bengals at every turn savoring the ending of the seven-game winning streak in the series, Browns safety Damarious Randall brazenly handed quarterback Andy Dalton’s interception to former Browns head coach Hue Jackson on the sidelines while safety Jabrill Peppers took victory laps. Browns rookie linebacker Genard Avery got called for taking out back-up quarterback Jeff Driskel’s knee and they kept taking shots post-game when Mayfield said of his first NFL head coach, “He left Cleveland and goes down to Cincinnati. It’s just somebody that was in our locker room, asking us to play for him, and he goes to a different team who we play twice a year. Everybody can have their spin on it, but that’s how I feel … It’s just like any rivalry game. That’s just how it is now. That’s how I’m going to treat it every time we play them. But there’s no hate. That’s just how it is, that’s how I’m going to treat it, and I think that’s how our team should treat it too.”
So it’s a rivalry again and while Lewis is 7-2 against Browns rookie quarterbacks, he’s 0-1 to Mayfield. With the Bengals expecting to get plenty from rookie running back Nick Chubb, the Bengals watched Mayfield hit nine of his first ten passes for 122 yards to seven different receivers in his first two drives. All four plays of that drive were on first down and out of empty back-field sets with four and five receivers. The Bengals rarely disrupted him or got in his face. The Browns offensive line threw a one-hitter.
When they did …
“He did a good job moving his feet, extending the play,” Dunlap said.
“They went four wide receivers and we were a little off balance there for a bit — then we fixed it, and we’re good. We’ve got to just understand that things are going to happen in the game that are going to be a little different. We’ve got to make the adjustment and then play to it,” Lewis said. “We talk about it on the sideline, and then just execute. It doesn’t matter if it’s a wide receiver, back or tight end, we’ve just got to execute things.”
Vincent Rey, who started at SAM backer while Burfict moved to the middle for the first time this season, could have talked about how the linebacking corps is decimated. Instead, he patiently answered what Lewis means by “Do Your Job,” and called himself out on one of the five third downs Cleveland completed in the 28-0 first-half rush.
“To me means whatever you are called to do in the defense, whatever your job is, do your job, don’t do anything else. Because if you don’t do your job, then who will?” Rey said. “The time on third and short; we were playing run and they had their run guys in. And they had a play action complete to (tight end David Njoku) from the off side. They had (running back Nick Chubb) in and had tight end Orson Charles) at fullback and they complete that one and that one’s on me; I wasn’t doing my job. So everybody just needs to look themselves in the mirror and say do your job. Don’t worry about what the coach calls or about what the offense is doing or what they’re not doing. Just do your job man. Because if you don’t do it, then who will?”
But it’s become more than that, Rey said.
Images from the week 12 matchup between the Bengals and Browns in the "Battle of Ohio."
“I just think that sometimes it’s pointing the finger at somebody else. If I’m a linebacker, oh it was the defensive line’s fault or it was the safety’s fault or it’s the offense or the special teams,” Rey said. “No, it’s no one else’s fault but your own. Take accountability and then we will be more consistent in our play. Anybody can go out there and make a stop here or there, but how about you be consistent. When they hit the red zone, you consistently don’t let them get them seven, make them get three. We have to be more consistent.”
Like when the Browns came out with the empty backfield. Rey said after his back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, they were trying to stop Chubb from taking over. They did, until he got 27 yards on his third to last carry of the game. Until then, he had just 52 yards on 24 carries. But Mayfield came out chucking with eight and nine men in the box.
“(Running back) Duke Johnson is a great receiver and they lined him up at receiver and that kind of caught us off guard,” Rey said. “They had a bye week for those things and we had to come in and adjust in the first half. We saw what Chubb did in the last two games and we wanted to stop this guy and we did until he broke out at the end. They made plays in the passing game and did a good job blocking us up.”
It was a growing pains day for rookie center Billy Price in his fifth NFL start. First there was the bad snap that flew over Dalton’s head for a fumble that set up a 35-7 lead and Dalton’s injury when 275-pound right end Emmanuel Ogbah fell on his thumb getting the ball at the Bengals 7.
“I just pulled it. That’s it. I just pulled it, something that doesn’t happen,” Price said. “I’ve never done that. I just held on to it a little too much and just pulled it. It’s a mistake on my part, and it led to seven points ... It’s my fault … execution.”
Price talked about the same thing on Driskel’s last two who-knows-what-happens drives. There were the three false starts that killed one drive and on the last drive when they broke the huddle with nine seconds left, a 46-yard bomb to Tyler Boyd negated by an illegal shift with not enough men on the line.
“It was just a miscommunication. I have to be better. I’m the guy who’s in the middle, so I have to be better,” Price said. “It’s execution. I have to be better for this team, and I have to make sure, again, that everybody’s on the same page. Some of those were me at the end there. I thought we were in a different type of hurry-up but we were in another hurry-up ... It’s just a miscommunication. The responsibility is on me, and I have to be better.”
On a day of details, the Bengals noted the biggest detail of all.
“We’ve lost what, four, five in a row?” Dunlap asked and even though it’s three that’s what it feels like when the last win is 28 days ago. “
“If you want it bad enough and we have everything here that we need to get. But we need to see. It we need to do it. Myself included. We have to do it.”