Ryan Fitzpatrick got to run a quarterback's favorite play twice Sunday, kneeling out the final seconds of the Cincinnati's first shutout victory in two years. Fitzpatrick threw just nine passes in a game played in a wind chill of zero degrees as the Bengals relied on an old-fashioned formula of running the ball and stout defense to beat their Northern Ohio rivals for the seventh time in their last nine meetings.
The Bengals now lead the all-time Battle of Ohio series, 36-35.
Cornerback Leon Hall intercepted Cleveland quarterback Ken Dorsey three times and running back Cedric Benson set career highs with 171 yards on 38 carries as the Bengals improved to 3-11-1 on the season. The Browns fall to 4-11. A Cincinnati win in its season finale next Sunday at home against Kansas City coupled with a Cleveland loss at Pittsburgh would leapfrog the Bengals into third place in the AFC North ahead of the Browns.
"We kind of killed the budget on game balls today," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "The offensive line, Ced and the whole defense. It was a big day today for those guys." Hall equaled a team record with his three interceptions, becoming the sixth player in franchise history to accomplish the feat. Ken Riley and David Fulcher each did it twice in their careers, while Lemar Parrish, Louis Breeden and Deltha O'Neal did it one time each. O'Neal was the last one to pick off three passes in a game, getting the hat trick in a 37-8 win against Minnesota on Sept. 18, 2005.
Hall's first interception provided the first points of the game; he jumped in front of a Dorsey quick slant pass intended for Braylon Edwards and returned it 50 yards for his first career touchdown. Hall is the third Cincinnati defensive player to score a touchdown this season, joining cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Chinedum Ndukwe. Hall's interceptions were his first of the season.
All three of Hall's interceptions were intended for Edwards, a college teammate of Hall's at Michigan. Edwards has had success against Hall in the past, including catching two touchdowns against Hall in Cleveland's 51-45 win in Cleveland last season, but this time it was Hall who got the better of Edwards.
"It was a big play at the beginning of the game," said Hall. "With the weather the way it was the db's and corners have to know that you can sit on a couple of routes or you can take a couple of chances because the wind is going to work in your favor.
"Last year when we came here I had a pretty bad game. I think I redeemed myself today."
The Bengals won by shutout for the first time since Nov. 26, 2006 when they beat the Browns in Cleveland, 30-0. That game was also the last time the Browns had been shutout at home. Cleveland has now gone nearly 21 quarters without scoring an offensive touchdown. A Browns offensive player last reached the end zone 13 seconds into the fourth quarter of a 29-27 win at Buffalo on Nov. 17 when running back Jerome Harrison went 72 yards for a score against the Bills.
Since then, Phil Dawson has kicked 10 field goals and cornerback Brandon McDonald returned an interception 24 yards for touchdown to account for all of Cleveland's scoring during its current 5-game losing streak.
Dorsey started for the third straight game after the Browns lost Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn for the season to injuries in back-to-back games against Houston and Tennessee. Former Tampa Bay quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, signed on Dec. 2, replaced Dorsey in the fourth quarter and was intercepted by linebacker Brandon Johnson.
The Browns completed just 12 of 22 passes for 76 yards and a final passer rating of 22.3. The Bengals came up with three sacks, two by defensive tackle John Thornton, and limited Cleveland to 182 total yards after coming into the game ranked 22nd in the league in total defense and allowing 343.3 yards per game.
It was the first road win of the season for the Bengals, as well as their first division win of the season. Pittsburgh and Baltimore swept the Bengals this season by a combined score of 116-33 and had lost to Cleveland 20-12 on Sept. 28 in Fitzpatrick's first start of the season. The Bengals turned the ball over five times in that loss to the Browns, with Fitzpatrick (three interceptions, one lost fumble) accounting for four of the turnovers.
In his second go-around against Cleveland, Fitzpatrick finished with a passer rating of 110.9 by completing five of nine attempts for 55 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Chris Henry in the second quarter. The touchdown capped a 15-play, 84-yard drive in which the Bengals converted all five of their third-down attempts, including the touchdown play. The Bengals won the turnover battle with a plus-3 margin. Their lone turnover was a fumble by Benson, who was stripped of the ball after a 46-yard gain in the first quarter. The run was the longest of the season for a Cincinnati back.
The Bengals rushed for 191 yards as a team, their most since gaining 192 yards in a 19-10 win against St. Louis last Dec. 9.
"I think that might be one of my biggest games as a professional. That was smash-mouth football at its best right there," said Benson, who rushed for 118 yards in the first half. "Cutting back was a big emphasis this week because they two-gap and have some big linemen up front so it was important to press it as far as you can to get those guys to over-pursue before you cut back. If you can execute that you can get up the field on them."