With another Ohio legend tweeting his approval, Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow threw his first NFL touchdown pass during Thursday night's first half the Browns took a 21-13 lead in Cleveland.
Working out of a triple tight end set, Burrow went to his first option, tight end C.J. Uzomah floating down the left sideline between the safety and cornerback for a 23-yard touchdown that cut Cleveland's lead to 14-10 with nine minutes left in the half.
At that point, as LeBron James tweeted that Burrow is special, he was. He was 13 of 17 for 114 yards for a rating of 113.4.
- But he wasn't through in the first quarter. After Bengals head coach Zac Taylor used his timeouts during the Browns last drive of the half, Burrow got the ball at his own 25 with 1:31 left and took them to Randy Bullock's half-ending 43-yard field goal.
That would have been a nice ending to Sunday's last drive, when Burrow was eight of 11. On Thursday he was six of 13 for 55 yards in that first half drive, which included rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins' first NFL catch an 18-yard sideline catch.
That gave Burrow 169 yards in the half on 18 of 28 passing for a 92.7 rating, nearly as many as his 193 yards in the opener.
- The problem was, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was even more special. He knocked the Bengals defense cold in the first half on a near-perfect 156 passer rating on 11 of 14 for 167 yards passing and two touchdowns.
The second touchdown was a killer. It came on third down from the 6 on a flip to running back Kareem Hunt. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap jammed Hunt, but there was no one behind him and Hunt was all alone in the end zone.
The Browns flummoxed the Bengals with Mayfield's bootlegs. And with the Bengals forced to bring a safety down to stop running back Nick Chubb's 52 yards on 12 carries, Mayfield had even more room.
- Penalties killed the Bengals in the first half. Rookie linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither got flagged on a punt and running back Joe Mixon's longest run of night, an 11-yarder, was negated by left tackle Jonah Williams' drive-killing holding call, his first in the NFL.
- But although Browns sack ace Myles Garrett tried both tackles in the first half, Williams and right tackle Bobby Hart seemed to hold up well.
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- Bengals safety Brandon Wilson has started a robust defense of his NFL kick return title. On Sunday, his lone return went plus-40. In the first half, he added two more plus-40s.
- Burrow picked up where he left off. After hitting those eight of 11 passes in Sunday's last drive, he went five of seven for 31 yards in the opening drive as the Bengals clicked off nearly eight minutes. But they only got 41 yards on 15 plays and they couldn't convert in the red zone when wide receiver A.J. Green was double covered in the red zone on first down and Burrow held the ball on third down to take a coverage sack from Adrian Clayborn coming from Burrow's left.
But Burrow did convert a fourth-and-five out of an empty set when he hit wide receiver Tyler Boyd for a first down and he scrambled for a first on third-and-seven when he froze a linebacker
- The Bengals' second drive was a cluster. On the last snap of the first quarter, Burrow was sacked for the second time on the night even though they lined up in triple tight ends. Tackle Sheldon Richardson didn't buy a play-action fake and stormed off the edge to dump Burrow rolling out for a 10-yard loss.
Then on third-and-six from his 42, Burrow whirled to call timeout from the shotgun and Trey Hopkins' snap whizzed past him and by the time it stopped rolling Burrow fell on it for a 20-yard loss that killed them in the field position game.