Sunday's second half had almost a surreal pre-season feel to it with back-up quarterback Jeff Driskel running things in the 35-20 loss to the Browns at Paul Brown Stadium, but make no mistake. The Bengals receivers have no qualms being in a huddle with him.
"Any time Jeff comes in he does phenomenally well," said wide receiver John Ross after it was done." "Jeff comes in and fills that void when he needs to and can do things with his arm and his legs. Jeff fits right in when he comes in."
"He's an athlete. He's a stud," said wide receiver Tyler Boyd.
Both caught touchdowns Sunday, Ross from Andy Dalton and Boyd had to laugh about the 28-yarder in the third quarter that was Driskel's first NFL touchdown pass. After Boyd shook off a tackle at the 10 to make it 35-13, he fired the ball at the end-zone wall in frustration. Except …
"It slipped and it went into the stands. Crazy," Boyd said. "I had to tell him my bad."
Driskel was looking for the ball, but Boyd thinks it was lost to the crowd. The same thing happened to A.J. McCarron three years ago in the game Dalton broke the same thumb he injured Sunday. He hit wide receiver A.J. Green on a 66-yard touchdown pass for his first NFL TD pass and Green in his own frustration uncharacteristically booted the ball into the stands.
Driskel's first one came on a laser and not a bomb. He led Boyd perfectly over the middle of a zone so he could get the final yards after catch.
"He saw they slipped into Cover Two," Boyd said. "I went up the middle and he had the exact read for that coverage."
Driskel actually had a better passer rating than Dalton Sunday on more throws (84.7 on 29 compared to 70.7 on 17) and each had a touchdown pass. Dalton moved past Boomer Esiason on the Bengals all-time list with his 188th toss, nine shy of Ken Anderson's club record.
GRINDING IT: Down 35-7, you can find out a lot of things about guys. Know that Boyd, Ross, Driskel, running back Joe Mixon and the offensive line were laying it out there in the second half along with a lot of other guys on a defense that only allowed a short-field TD in the second half ... Driskel took a cheap shot in the knee from Browns rookie linebacker Genard Avery that got flagged and limped it off, eventually scoring on a gutty two-yard run that wrapped up the scoring with 7:57 left.
Boyd is now tied for the club lead with Green with six receiving TDs and he led the way with 85 yards on seven catches Sunday to put him on pace for 92 catches and 1,223 yards. The problem remains behind him. The Bengals needed to get back in the game quickly, but Ross could grab only three of seven targets for 31 yards and tight end C.J. Uzomah only corralled six of 13 for 39 yards. In the last two games, the Bengals have converted 10 of 27 third downs and Boyd has six of the seven they've got passing on 11 targets. Ross is 1-2 and Uzomah is 0-4 along with rookie wide receiver Auden Tate 0-3.
Mixon was terrific. He didn't let the first five carries for a negative yard get him down and he finished with 89 yards on 14 carries and ended up as their second-leading receiver with 66 yards, the second best of his career. He was running behind a new left guard in the second half when Christian Westerman replaced Clint Boling.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Two of Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield's four touchdown passes went to tight ends from six yards out, a group coached by former Bengals East Coast scout Greg Seamon. Seamon, Hue Jackson's college offensive coordinator, has been getting a ton of production from his people. David Njoku is their second-leading receiver with 41 balls and his three TDs are tied for the team's receiving lead. Fells has just seven catches, but two are for scores and he's averaging 13.7 yards per catch. Njoku's touchdown came on a curious play. He broke a tackle and tried to vault in from the 5. Safety Jessie Bates caught him but Njoku kept driving into the end zone in Bates' arms …
Another tough day for Bengals special teams. It started on their opening kickoff when they suffered what amounted to a 32-yard penalty. Alex Erickson's 36-yard return got wiped out when rookie tight end Bubba Franks' was called for illegally double teaming, putting the ball at the Bengals 11. Of course, he was misidentified twice by the officials before they gave it him, even calling the No. 85 of Tyler Eifert that hasn't been in use since Sept. 30.
Then Randy Bullock had his second field goal blocked of the season and he missed his third extra point. Naturally that came on a day old friend Jake Elliott was three-for-three for the Eagles, including the winner with 22 seconds left. The 54-yarder was Bullock's longest try of the season (it didn't get up very quickly) and he's now 1-for-4 from 50 while Elliott is 1-for-3 …
The 13 penalties are third most under Lewis and they've hit that number four times. The last time they had that many was in last year's loss to the Steelers at PBS ...