CINCINNATI – The Browns scored a touchdown on each of their first five possessions and dominated the Cincinnati Bengals 35-20 in Sunday’s reunion with Hue Jackson.
With the win, the Browns snapped a 25-game road losing streak and kept their slim playoff hopes alive.
They avoided tying the Detroit Lions (2007-10) for the NFL’s longest road drought (26 consecutive defeats) and prevailed as the visiting team for the first time since they edged the Baltimore Ravens 33-30 in overtime on Oct. 11, 2015.
Coming off their 28-16 home win over the Atlanta Falcons and a Week 11 bye, the Browns also won consecutive games for the first time since 2014, when they had a three-game winning streak (Oct. 26, Nov. 2 and Nov. 6). Their 24-3 win over the Bengals on Nov. 6, 2014, was the last time they had beaten Cincinnati, which won the next seven meetings.
Providing a clue about how fired up the Browns (4-6-1 and 2-1-1 in the AFC North) were to face their former head coach, free safety Damarious Randall handed the ball to Jackson on the Bengals’ sideline after intercepting it in the second quarter.
Randall and his teammates backed up his tough talk.
On Friday, Randall said the Bengals would be doomed if seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green missed his third consecutive game with a toe injury. “If they don’t have A.J., they’re getting their ass beat,” Randall said. Green was inactive Sunday, so Randall’s prediction came true.
The Browns reunited with Jackson less than a month after they fired him and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Oct. 29. Jackson, who went 3-36-1 in 2 1/2 seasons as the head coach of the Browns, rejoined the Bengals on Nov. 13 as a special assistant to coach Marvin Lewis.
In the buildup to the divisional matchup at Paul Brown Stadium, some Browns players acknowledged meeting Jackson again would be a motivational factor for them, but several others downplayed the story line.
Nevertheless, the evidence on the field suggested the Browns were determined to earn bragging rights over Jackson, who greeted several members of Cleveland’s organization during pregame warm-ups and briefly shook hands with owner Jimmy Haslam. The Browns never won on the road under Jackson.
Now they’re 2-1 since promoting Gregg Williams to interim coach and Freddie Kitchens to offensive coordinator.
Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield improved to 3-5 as a Browns starter. He went 19-of-26 passing for 258 yards and four touchdowns with a rating of 143.9. He didn’t commit a turnover or take a sack for the second game in a row.
Mayfield, the No. 1 overall draft pick, has 17 touchdown passes this season. He passed Tim Couch, the first overall pick in 1999, for the most touchdown passes by a Browns rookie since the team entered the NFL. Couch had 15 touchdown passes.
Mayfield has thrown multiple touchdown passes in each of his last five starts, becoming the first Browns quarterback to accomplish the feat since Vinny Testaverde (1994-95).
The Browns hadn’t scored 28 points in a first half since Dec. 1, 1991, according to ESPN Stats and Information. They led the Indianapolis Colts 31-0 at halftime and won by the same score.
The Browns scored a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time this season, taking a 7-0 lead with 9:11 left in the first quarter. Rookie running back Nick Chubb capped the 10-play, 78-yard drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown. Mayfield went 6-of-6 passing for 71 yards during the march.
Losers of their past three games, the Bengals (5-6, 1-3 in the division) responded by driving to the Browns 36-yard line, where they settled for a 54-yard field goal attempt by Randy Bullock. But defensive end Myles Garrett proceeded to block the kick, and the Browns took possession at their 44 with 3:01 left in the first quarter.
The Browns capitalized on the good field possession by producing a four-play, 56-yard scoring drive. Mayfield and rookie receiver Antonio Callaway connected in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown, putting the Browns ahead 14-0 with 1:37 left in the first quarter.
On their next possession, the Browns faced second-and-goal at the 6-yard line when tight end David Njoku caught a short pass from Mayfield and leaped near the 4. Bengals safety Jessie Bates initially stopped Njoku, but center JC Tretter, right guard Kevin Zeitler and running back Duke Johnson pushed Njoku into the end zone to finish a 12-play, 96-yard drive. With the touchdown, the Browns built a 21-0 lead with 9:18 left in the second quarter.
Two plays later, Randall picked off a pass from quarterback Andy Dalton with 9:09 remaining in the second quarter and then handed the ball to Jackson. The coach accepted the ball and patted Randall on the helmet.
Chubb scored his second touchdown of the game when he made a circus catch over safety Brandon Wilson in the front left corner of the end zone. The 14-yard touchdown reception from Mayfield wrapped up an 11-play, 59-yard drive and gave the Browns a 28-0 lead with 2:25 left in the second quarter.
The Bengals trimmed their deficit to 28-7 when Dalton connected with receiver John Ross for a 2-yard touchdown to cap a nine-play, 75-yard drive with 32 seconds left in the first half.
Early in the second half, though, the Bengals had a crucial mistake.
Center Billy Price fired a shotgun snap high and wide. Quarterback Andy Dalton tried to recover, but defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah beat him to it, securing the ball at the Bengals 7 with 13:41 left in the third quarter.
Two plays later, Mayfield connected with tight end Darren Fells in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown, and the Browns extended their lead to 35-7 with 12:56 left in the third quarter.
Dalton didn’t play again because he suffered a right thumb injury trying to recover the bad snap. He finished 10-of-17 passing for 100 yards and a touchdown with an interception for a rating of 70.7.
In the meantime, the Browns were lulled into a false sense of security.
Dalton was replaced by Jeff Driskel with 12:56 left in the third quarter. Driskel’s 28-yard touchdown pass to receiver Tyler Boyd let the Bengals cut the Browns’ advantage to 35-14 with 4:56 left in the third quarter.
Then, with 7:57 left in the fourth quarter, Driskel sneaked for a 2-yard touchdown, and the Bengals trailed 35-20 after Bullock missed the extra-point kick.
The Bengals threatened to make it a one-score game late in the fourth quarter but had a turnover on downs to end each of their last two possessions.
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