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Bengals snap Battle of Ohio losing streak with win over Browns

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was adamant this week that December football in the NFL is about winning at all costs. In the NFL, good teams pull out wins in a variety of ways.

On Sunday at Paycor Stadium in front of an announced attendance of 66,222, the Bengals found a way to beat the Cleveland Browns, 23-10, despite a sluggish start offensively and injuries to two of its top playmakers. It’s the Bengals’ first win in the Battle of Ohio since the 2019 season-finale.

Going into the week, the Bengals had surged near the upper echelon of nearly every league-wide power ranking and were getting healthy at the right time.

That changed instantly on Sunday when both sides of the ball suffered key injuries. Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, who was limited with a hamstring injury on Thursday, played just one snap before he reaggravated the injury and didn’t return. On the second snap of the afternoon, Tyler Boyd suffered a right finger injury and did not return.

On Cleveland’s first drive, defensive back Mike Hilton was banged up with a lower leg injury while blitzing, but soon returned to the game.

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No Tee Higgins or Tyler Boyd, no worries for Bengals’ passing game

But the Bengals success after an 0-2 start has been built on its “next man up” mentality, especially at receiver after going 3-1 without Ja’Marr Chase.

This time, Chase carried the load with Higgins and Boyd sidelined. Chase had 10 catches for 119 yards and opened the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown reception on a throw Burrow fit through a tight window between Browns’ corner Denzel Ward and safety John Johnson III.

The scoring drive was largely fueled by the Browns’ defense, which aided a Bengals offense that looked lost early in the game without two of its top playmakers. The Browns committed four penalties that netted Cincinnati nearly 60 yards, including a roughing the kicker penalty on a Drue Chrisman punt and a 33-yard pass interference on Ward.

The Bengals moved more efficiently on their ensuing touchdown drive before the half. Trent Taylor was the first Bengals’ receiver besides Chase to record a catch with a career-long 34-yard reception on third-and-10 that moved the Bengals into the redzone.

On third-and-10 just three plays later, Burrow improvised by eluding the Cleveland pass rush and flipped a 12-yard pass to Trenton Irwin for a first down. One play later, Samaje Perine’s six-yard touchdown run gave the Bengals a 13-3 lead at the half.

In the second half, the Bengals dialed up a trick play at the perfect spot to take a three-possession lead. On first down from the Cleveland 45, a flea-flicker caught the Cleveland secondary off guard and Irwin was wide-open for a 45-yard score that gave Cincinnati a 20-3 advantage.

Bengals defense keeps Deshaun Watson, Nick Chubb in check

Quarterback Deshaun Watson was making his second start in a Browns uniform after struggling last week in his Cleveland debut against the Texans (13-of-22, 131 yards, one interception and no touchdowns).

Watson, making his first start in Cincinnati since his rookie year in 2017, struggled mightily once again, starting just 10-of-15 for 123 yards and was sacked twice before Cleveland had to air it out late facing a double-digit deficit. Watson finished 26-of-42 for 276 yards and used his legs for multiple third-down conversions, running for 33 yards on six attempts.

Containing Cleveland’s rushing attack was top priority for a Bengals defense that permitted 172 yards and three touchdowns on the ground back on Halloween. Nick Chubb broke a 13-yard run on his second attempt of the game but managed just 23 yards over his final 12 carries.

Over the last three seasons, the Browns are 13-4 when Chubb runs for over 100 yards in a game and just 8-14 when he doesn’t cross the century mark, including a 1-6 mark this year.

Cleveland’s offense found the endzone for the first time with Watson as its quarterback in the third quarter with a 10-play, 71-yard march capped off with a touchdown toss to David Njoku to trim Cincinnati’s lead to 10. The Bengals immediately answered with a field goal drive when Joe Mixon broke a 40-yard run, his longest since 2019.

Joe Mixon runs for 96 yards in return for Bengals

Making his return, Mixon was used as the starter and handled the majority of the workload. Mixon ran for 96 yards on 14 attempts while Perine added 22 yards on just four attempts and a rushing score.

Cincinnati’s defense had one takeaway, which came in the third quarter on an interception from Jessie Bates. But Cleveland had three possessions reach Bengals’ territory that resulted in a turnover on downs. The Browns went for it on fourth-and-1 in the redzone on its first drive, but back-up quarterback Jacoby Brissett overthrew Donovan Peoples-Jones in the endzone.

In the fourth quarter, Cleveland’s final effort to rally from a double-digit hole came up empty when Watson’s fade route on fourth-and-goal from the Bengals’ 4-yard line was broken up by Cam Taylor-Britt with 5:28 remaining. Cleveland’s final possession started in Cincinnati territory, but ended without a first down when Watson was pressured and missed Amari Cooper.

The Bengals remain in the AFC’s top wild card spot after the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road Sunday, 16-14.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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