As crazy as it seemed, with 2:56 left in a game they had thrown for 107 yards and amassed 209, the Bengals were eight points away from tying the Browns Sunday.
But as he did all day, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield tortured them in the middle of the field on the play before the two-minute warning. Rookie safety Jessie Bates jumped it and tried to pick it off and cornerback William Jackson fell as he closed and tight end David Njoku went for 66 yards to end it with the Bengals were out of timeouts.
That gave Mayfield a 284-yard day on 27 of 37 passing as the Browns racked up one of the biggest days ever against a Marvin Lewis Bengals defense with 493 total yards.
"I had an opportunity to get it, went for it and didn't get it," Bates said. "Looking to get that turnover.
"That is what I have been taught. This is what I have done my whole football career. I did not make it. It is what it is."
Lewis said there was too much time to try an on-side kick.
"We got the ball. We got another chance to do it again," Lewis said. "We had to get a stop. With two minutes, we can get the ball back with 1:50, or make them throw it, one or the other. They helped us the first time (when they threw a pass earlier in that last drive.)"
With 1,063 yards, running back Joe Mixon has the Bengals' most rushing yards since Jeremy Hill in 2014. And he earned everyone Sunday with the Browns stacking the box against the Bengals' depleted passing game and finished the day with 68 yards on 17 carries for a 4.0 average below the 4.8 he brought in.
"That just shows you what kind of a threat I am. You can take that from it," Mixon said of the nine and ten in the box.
It was the fewest passing yards the Bengals have had in a game since Oct. 22, 2017 and 108 against the Steelers. The last time they had 209 total yards in a game was a 2004 loss to the Steelers.
Safety Clayton Fejedelem, who ran a fake punt for a first down in the first quarter, gave them a shot when he blocked a punt at the Browns 23 with 3:53 left and the Bengals turned it into eight points in less than a minute.
Fejedelem, named a first alternate special teams Pro Bowler earlier in the week, credited defensive end Sam Hubbard for drawing two blockers. When Hubbard crossed the face of long snapper Charley Hughlett, Fejedelem saw safety Jabrill Peppers move to block Hubbard and Fejedelem shot through the gap for the Bengals' first block since Oct. 29, 2017 when Jordan Willis did it against Indy.
Linebacker Nick Vigil wasn't pleased with how the defense came out in the second half.
"They had a good scheme. They came out with jet sweeps, a lot of motion and we didn't handle it very well," Vigil said. "You just can't get your eyes lost like that … And then we got beat on that BS-trick play."
But Vigil praised how safety Shawn Williams had wide receiver Breshad Perriman covered on the 63-yard dime thrown by wide receiver Jarvis Landry on the double reverse.
"It wasn't even his guy and he was right there," Vigil said. "It was a great throw. They made a great play. I wouldn't think he could make that throw nine out of ten times, but he did."
The Bengals defense went over allowing 6,000 yards for just the second time in franchise history and first time since 1995. At 6,275, they are 75 yards from allowing their most all-time. They also need to hold the Steelers to 20 points so they don't set the record allowing their most points of 460 from 1999.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel's two-point conversion pass to wide receiver Cody Core with 2:56 left cut the lead to 26-18 and snapped the Bengals' NFL-long drought of going three seasons without a two-pointer.
"It was a play action. A play action pass. We had guys, (Bengals WRs) John (Ross) and Cody, who were running away from man coverage," Driskel said. "Cody did a really nice job of extending the play. The DB had his back to me so, I gave him a high ball, and he went up and made a good play. That was a really big play to come within one score."
Carlos Dunlap was the center of attention when he chased Mayfield out of bounds in the fourth quarter. Mayfield was straining for the first down as he was going out of bounds on the Browns sidelines and Dunlap hit him cleanly, but Mayfield and his guys didn't think so and there was a scrum.
"They were protecting their quarterback. I hope my guys would do the same thing. I ain't mad at them," Dunlap said. "It wasn't a dirty play. I pushed him instead of hit him. I would have loved to have teed off on him, but I knew that was a tight situation, so I tried to make a smart play."