The Bengals secured their fourth straight 10-win season Sunday in Battle of Ohio II with a 37-3 rout of the Browns in Cleveland, sweeping the season series.
It's Cleveland's worst loss in 10 years.
"Tough day on all fronts," Cleveland coach Mike Pettine said. "Frustrating."
The AFC North-leading Bengals improved their record to 10-2, while dropping the last-place Browns to 2-10. That follows finishes of 10-5-1 last season, 11-5 the year prior and 10-6 in 2012 for Cincinnati.
The Browns, on the other hand, have lost at least 10 games in seven of the last eight seasons, last year's 7-9 finish the lone season that they were able to avoid double digits in losses. The Browns have lost at least 10 games 14 of the last 18 years.
On Sunday at FirstEngery Stadium, they took on the Bengals' highly-ranked defense with a third-string quarterback, journeyman Austin Davis, and the Bengals flattened them, bolting to a 20-0 first-quarter lead before stretching it to 34-3 after three quarters.
“I’m pleased with our effort today. The thing was to come in here, put our heads down, go to work and have it be a hard hat and lunch pail kind of day for us," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "I’m pleased with the outcome and how we did it. First half, we had a few drives we had to get finished off. Third down and some penalties on defense kept things alive, but we had to settle down again in the second half and get it done, and that’s what’s important."
Andy Dalton rushed for a first-quarter touchdown, giving the Bengals the lead for good, and had a near-perfect passing day for the visitors. He finished 14 of 19 for 220 yards and two touchdowns, one for 23 yards in the second quarter to A.J. Green, good for a rating of 146.8. Green's score helped give the Bengals a 14-0 lead.
“We had to just come out and play our game. I felt that we did that," Dalton said. "We took advantage of some opportunities, we made some big plays that allowed us to get this win. It was a good one for us.”
Dalton eclipsed 3,000 yards for the season, joining Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for at least 3,000 yards in each of their first five seasons.
Green had five catches for a game-high 128 yards (25.6 average) with a long gainer of 57 on six targets. Marvin Jones was targeted five times resulting in five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown.
“We had a couple plays dialed up where he was able to get behind the defender and make good plays," Dalton said of Green. "The touchdown he had was a big one. The big catch he had on the sideline near the goal line was another great play by him. We are fortunate to have a playmaker like him.”
Jones' 21-yard TD grab in the third and the extra-point kick made it 34-3. Greens's TD catch put him over 1,000 yards for the season, giving him five such seasons in his five years in the league. He and Randy Moss are the only players in NFL history to start their careers with five straight seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving.
The Bengals improved to 5-1 on the road. They are poised to make the postseason for the fifth year in a row, and could clinch a playoff berth next week.
Dalton targeted 12 Bengals in the absence of starting tight end Tyler Eifert (pinched nerve). He completed passes to eight different receivers, including rookie tight ends Tyler Kroft (1 catch, 17 yards) and C.J. Uzomah (1 for 4). It was Uzomah's first catch of the season, and Kroft's second.
Running back Jeremy Hill had his best game of the year, rushing 22 times for 98 yards for a healthy 4.5 yards per carry with a touchdown, his eighth of the season. His 1-yard plunge helped push the lead to 27-3.
Backfield mate Giovani Bernard added five carries for 26 yards, and had one reception for nine yards.
Heretofore rarely heard-from Bengals who nabbed a catch Sunday were rookie receiver Mario Alford, H-back Ryan Hewitt and running back Rex Burkhead.
Alford was a seventh-round draft pick this year. It was his first NFL reception. Hewitt was the lone college free agent to make the Bengals season-opening roster last season. Hewitt and Burkhead entered play with an average of 1 catch per game between them, so they doubled their normally expected output in Cleveland.
"With our injuries eight rookies suited up today – eight of our draft picks, which was great for them to get some playing time and an opportunity for them to get out there and play today," Lewis said. "It was a good opportunity for them, and I thought the other guys raised their level, which was what we needed with the guys out that we had out today to raise the level around the rest of the football team. I was proud of that.”
The Bengals were so comfortably ahead that for the second game in a row backup quarterback A.J. McCarron was summoned for relief duties, replacing the impeccable Dalton. McCarron was 2-for-3 for 19 yards. The Bengals outgained the Browns in total yards, 377-273. Cleveland had two turnovers. The Bengals had none.
Mike Nugent kicked three fields and four extra-points and outscored the Browns, 13-3 all by himself. The Bengals were so effective on offense that Kevin Huber punted once.
The Browns' lone score came on Travis Coon's 47-yard field goal at the end of the first half.
Davis finished 25-of-38 passing for 230 yards with an interception for Cleveland. He was picked off by Reggie Nelson, who came up with his NFL-leading and career-high seventh interception. Nelson, a ninth-year safety who seems to get better with age, has interceptions in four straight games and five picks in his last six games. His previous career high was five picks as a rookie in 2007 with Jacksonville.
Three-quarters of the Bengals' starting defensive line had sacks, as ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson and tackle Domata Peko recorded one each. Dunlap upped his team-best season total to 9.5. Johnson has four, equaling his total last season for Tampa Bay, giving him more sacks in a season since racking up 11.5 in 2012 for the Bengals. For Peko, it was his career single-season high fourth sack. He had three as a previous high in 2013.
“It’s our defensive line," Nelson said of the Bengals' team-wide success on defense. "The front seven have been doing a good job stopping the run which makes the secondary’s job a lot easier. When they stop the run, it gives us the chance to make plays out there.”
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict led the Bengals with eight tackles. Nelson, linebacker Vincent Rey and rookie cornerback Josh Shaw were next with five tackles a piece. Burfict had two tackles for losses. Nelson had one.
“Our goal was to just keep them out of field goal range," Burfict said. "We figured that it was going to be tough for them to score on us, so we just wanted to get them out of field goal range. I was kind of upset when they got that field goal going into halftime. It gets a little bit harder when teams are running the hurry up; there’s more mistakes for them and for ourselves. I’m a little upset they got three points.”
They held the Browns to 68 rushing yards on 3.8 yards per carry. Isaiah Crowell led the way for Cleveland with 11 carries for 62 yards. Browns receiver Brian Hartline was targeted 11 times and caught eight passes for a team-high 83 yards.