The gap between the Browns and the Bengals in the AFC North is wide

The gap between the top and the bottom of the AFC North seems to be getting wider

CLEVELAND—Mike Pettine said there is a considerable gap between the top and the bottom in the AFC North.

“It is clear we are not playing with the roster we expected to play with on opening day,” he said. “That is clear. They’re a team that is playing well. They have been in their system a long time. They have continuity. They have chemistry. That is what you strive for. That is what you strive for. You could see a lot of their guys – that team has been together for a long time, and it is paying dividends for them.”

Extra Points

Austin’s Debut: QB Austin Davis became the 24th different quarterback to start for the Browns since the team returned to the NFL in 1999, but fared as most of his predecessors did in their debuts.

 Davis finished 25-of-38 for 230 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. His overall, rating was 71.2. He was sacked three times and rushed three times for four yards. 

Pettine said Davis made some good plays.

“There are some positives to take out of it, though,” Pettine said. “We had some guys that had to step up and made some plays. I commend Austin. They were able to generate some pressure. I thought he hung in there. I know he had to get rid of the ball a couple of times and had a couple of penalties, but I thought he was poised.”

Davis talked about his performance.

“I think we are judged on wins and losses, so you saw how the game went,” he said. “It is disheartening to put so much into a week of prep and then you go out and have a game like that. Whatever my performance was, it wasn’t good enough. 

“We have to continue to push and continue to work and, I thought a lot of guys stepped up.”

In the first half, Davis was 14-of-23 for 128 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. His rating was 57.9. One rush for 8 yards.

Pettine said he will decide if Davis will start again next week or he’ll go with QB Johnny Manziel.

“We’ll make that decision tomorrow,” Pettine said. “Get a chance to watch the tape and we’ll all circle back, circle up on it and see where we are with it.”

Barnidge Continues: TE Gary Barnidge caught five passes for 59 yards  and now has 60 receptions and seven touchdowns. He is second on the team in receiving yards with 817.

Last Man Standing: The Browns were already down two receivers with concussions and WR Dwayne Bowe and WR Terrelle Pryor were inactive. During the game, WR Travis Benjamin injured his shoulder and did not return. WR Marlon Moore injured his ribs, but did play some. The Browns had just WR Brian Hartline and WR Darius Jennings to finish the game. 

Hartline was seen limping after the game with a thigh bruise but had eight receptions for 83 yards (10.4 avg.). Jennings had five receptions for 35 yards (7.0 avg.). Jennings was active after being promoted from the practice squad on Saturday. Jennings is an undrafted rookie from Virginia who has spent the first 11 games on the practice squad. Bowe was inactive for the seventh time this season, while Pryor was inactive after re-signing this week with the Browns. WR Andrew Hawkins and WR Taylor Gabriel were inactive with concussions. Jennings was the kick returner and returned his first kickoff to the Browns 17. He had five returns for 112 yards (22.4 avg.) with a long of 28 yards. 

Pettine was asked if he regretted being short at the position.

“Anytime you get below a position minimum, you’re going to question how you have it,” he said. “This was a game we felt they were going to run the ball a lot. We wanted to get six D-linemen up. With Marlon playing a lot on offense, we felt we had to have Don Jones up in order to subsidize his [special teams] reps. Like I said, you have your position minimums and you always backfill based on special teams. That was one of the reasons we wanted to get Jennings up. We knew he could return for us and give us some special teams contribution. Marlon had played over 40 plays the week before so Tabes (special teams coordinator Chris Tabor) didn’t want to use him, obviously, in four phases so that’s how we rolled.”

Pettine was impressed by Jennings play.

Darius Jennings is a good example of all of our guys. He’s a guy that’s been on the practice squad all year and he’s done everything we asked. We tell guys prepare like a starter, and this guy prepared like a starter. He was on the practice squad. We knew there was a chance he’d be up. He’s a good football player and he went out and he showed it.

Bitonio Returns, Re-injured:After a two week hiatus with an ankle injury, Joel Bitonio was back in the starting lineup, but re-injured his ankle on the team’s first drive of the game and did not return. Bitonio injured his ankle against the Bengals on Nov. 6 and was replaced by first-round draft pick Cameron Erving for the past two games. Erving has struggled and is back to the bench until Bitonio’s injury. 

The Backs: The Browns rushed for 68 yards with RB Isaiah Crowell leading with 62 yards on 11 carries, including a long of 23 yards. RB Duke Johnson had just two yards on five carries, but caught four passes for 30 yards. Crowell caught one pass for two yards.

Erving Benched: After Erving replaced the injured Bitonio, he was replaced late in the game by OL Austin Pasztor.

“He was struggling a little bit, and Austin Pasztor was a guy we have wanted to see play,” Pettine said. “That was one where we actually discussed before that we want to get Austin in there at some point. For Cam, it is not for a lack of want-to or effort, but he was having a tough day. We felt like we wanted to get Austin in there.”

 Johnson Hurt: Rookie FB Malcolm Johnson injured his groin in the first quarter and did not return.

Tough Times: CB Tramon Williams was beaten for a 57-yard pass to WR A.J. Green to set up the Bengals first touchdown. The Bengals second touchdown was to Green on a 23-yard pass when he was wide open down the sideline behind Williams. After an incomplete pass, Williams was called for holding to give the Bengals a first down. It appeared Williams was victimized by Green in the third quarter for Green’s second touchdown from 22 yards out, but they reviewed and called him down at the one-yard line. RB Jeremy Hill scored on the next play.After the game, Pettine made it a point to say that Williams was supposed to have help from a safety on the 57-yard pass play. Green finished with five catches for 128 yards (25.6 avg.) and a touchdown.

“Just a quick note because I wanted to make sure it was out there, too, since no one asked. On the  Tramon (Williams) touchdown, he should have had top help,” Pettine said. “Sometimes, you see a guy get run by, but he was supposed to be in trail coverage with help over the top. I wanted to make sure I got that out there.”

 Rejected: After scoring a one-yard touchdown, RB Jeremy Hill jumped into the stands and was pulled down by LB Christian Kirksey, who was penalized 15 yards for doing so.

“I never got a full explanation of what it was,” Pettine said. “I don’t know if he was upset that an opposing player jumped into our stands. I thought for a second, from the word I got up top, there is a chance it was going to be offsetting and then they called it against us.”

They got a Sack: LB Paul Kruger was credited with a sack of QB Andy Dalton on third-and-9 to force the Bengals to kick a field goal to give Cincinnati a 17-0 lead. LB Barkevious Mingo was in on the play. It was the Browns only sack of the game. Kruger has 2.5 sacks on the season after having 11 in 2014.LB Craig Robertson led the Browns with seven tackles, including one tackle for loss. DB Tashaun Gipson had six tackles and DB Donte Whitner had five. Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said last week he doesn’t care about sacks, but is more concerned with pressures. Kruger’s sack was the only pressure on the quarterback listed in the official statistics.

Gaines Turn: Rookie CB Charles Gaines started in place of CB Justin Gilbert (concussion), who started for CB Pierre Desir, who started for CB Joe Haden (concussion). Haden has now missed four-straight games and six of the last seven games due to a concussion. Gaines had one tackle. 

Coons Blocked: K Travis Coons made his first field goal attempt from 47 yards to end the first half, but had a 48-yard attempt blocked on the opening possession of the third quarter by DL Carlos Dunlap. Coons has missed two field goals this season, both were blocked.

Starks Back: DL Randy Starks was active after missing last week’s game with a knee injury. He finished with two tackles.

Captains: DL Randy Starks, DL Danny Shelton, OL John Greco and RB Duke Johnson are the captains.

Happy Birthday!: QB Johnny Manziel turned 23 Sunday. Manziel celebrated watching QB Austin Davis become the 24th starting quarterback for the Browns since 1999. Despite trailing 37-3, Manziel did not get into the game. He was the only player on the active roster that did not play for the Browns. Pettine said he didn’t feel the play of Davis warranted him being replaced. “If the performance had gotten to the point where we felt like it warranted a change, then we have considered it, but it never got to that point for us.”

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