Bengals running back Joe Mixon got his second straight 1,000-yard season in emphatic fashion Sunday when he rushed for 103 yards on 15 carries in a first half the Bengals took a 20-16 lead over the big-play Browns at rain-soaked Paul Brown Stadium.
While Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton spiced what could be his swan song with a scrambling touchdown and his 204th career touchdown pass in between a steady rain that was sometimes driving, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield completed just six of 15 passes in the face of a stiff Bengals pass rush that sacked him twice. But his completions went for 193 yards (one more than what he had for the game three weeks ago in Cleveland) and that included book-end bombs opening and closing the half's scoring.
Despite those lapses, the Bengals defense was immense, loading up the box and holding the NFL's leading rusher Nick Chubb to 21 yards on eight carries.
Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd also reached the 1,000 mark for the second straight year the only way he knows how on the series the Bengals took a 20-7 lead. He needed 13, but got 22 on his first catch of the day bailing the Bengals out of a third-and-14 when he out-muscled himself to separation for a leaping grab over the middle. Then on the next third down with the Bengals needing five, he converted a quick pass for the first down following the blocks of wide receiver Alex Erickson and tight end Tyler Eifert.
Boyd finished the drive with three catches for 31 yards, but it was Dalton that got this touchdown, making it three-for-three in the rainy red zone. On third-and-five, Dalton got chased to his left with Bryan Cox, Jr. in pursuit and Dalton tucked it as Erickson got another block and Dalton scored his Bengals quarterback-record 22nd career rushing touchdown diving on the pylon to give them that 20-7 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half.
Dalton went into the half just seven of 17 for 70 yards, but he converted six of nine third downs.
The Bengals defense didn't allow a catch to the Browns' pair of Pro Bowl receivers until midway through the second quarter. Landry made a nice back-shoulder catch for 26 yards despite good coverage by cornerback B.W. Webb and Odell Beckham, Jr., shot past cornerback Darius Phillips in his first start of the season for 36 yards.
At the two-minute warning, that's all they had until Landry struck on the first play after the two-minute warning. Landry ran past Webb down the seam and when safety Shawn Williams got over there a little late, Landry split them as they collided to finish off the 56-yard play. When Austin Seibert missed the extra point, the Bengals had a 20-16 lead.
But they had the ball for just 20 seconds. Boyd suffered his second drop of the half (just his eighth and ninth of the season, according to profootballfocus.com) and Dalton got sacked when safety Damarious Randall blitzed unabated for a hit.
Eifert, playing in his 16th game of the season for the first time in his career, suffered a stinger late in the first half, but returned.
Phillips made his third interception of the season on just the eighth ball thrown at him this season when Mayfield made a bad call and fired a ball at the well-covered wide receiver Jarvis Landry on third-and-10. (They were third-and-10 because rookie middle linebacker Germaine Pratt dropped Chubb for a four-yard loss on first down.) Phillips went to his knees to pick it off, got up and took it 17 yards to the Browns 3.
Mixon took it from there on third-and-goal when he followed a big block by rookie left guard Michael Jordan on an interesting play call by head coach Zac Taylor. On second down he went with a heavy 'I" formation with Joe Mixon dotting the I with tight end Cethan Carter behind two extra offensive linemen. Mixon got nothing, but when they went back to five offensive linemen and one-back, they still gave it to Mixon and he gave the Bengals a 13-7 lead with 4:45 left in the first quarter. Randy Bullock missed his first extra point of the season when he hit the left upright.
Give Mixon credit for some great timing. He went over 1,000 on his third carry of the game and his longest run of the season, a vintage outside pitch on which the DBs wanted nothing to do with him. He made his buddy, cornerback Greedy Williams, miss, as well as the safety Randall. It was Williams that baited Mixon into a 15-yard penalty three weeks ago after Mixon bowled him over on his first run that day.
Mixon put the ball in the red zone, where the Bengals failed to score touchdowns on four of five trips inside the Cleveland 20 in the last game. But this time on their first red-zone snap of the day they scored a touchdown on Dalton's 15-yard slant to tight end C.J. Uzomah that tied the game at seven after a furious first 5:07.
The Bengals defense that was so good in Cleveland was as porous as the skies on the first drive, which had a bad start when D'Ernest Johnson ripped off the longest kick return against the Bengals this season with a 47-yarder to open the game. Then after Chubb pounded his way to a first down on two carries, Mayfield wasted no time going up top and hitting wide receiver Damion Ratley for a 46-yard touchdown 88 seconds into the thing. Ratley scored his first NFL touchdown racing past both the safety Williams and Phillips, making his first start this season and second of his career. Mayfield put it right over his shoulder into the end zone.
But the Bengals defense then calmed down. For some reason, the Browns ignored Chubb on the next series and that turned into a three-and-out highlighted by Bengals left end Carlos Dunlap chasing Mayfield out of bounds on first down with his 80th career sack. That set the tone and helped the Bengals get off the field on five of seven third downs.
View photos from the Bengals Week 17 matchup against the Cleveland Browns from Paul Brown Stadium.