CLEVELAND--The Browns were hoping the return of Robert Griffin III to the lineup would provide a spark.
It didn't until the second half, but by then it was too late and the Browns lost their 13th-straight this season, 23-10 to the Cincinnati Bengals in front of a sparse crowd that was announced at "60,028 paid attendance" at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Griffin's finished just 12-of-28 for 104 yards and a rating of just 38.4 and an interception. Griffin had a rushing touchdown and had seven carries for 31 yards. In the first half, Griffin had a rating of 0.0. He was just 2-of-10 for 20 yards with an interception thrown into triple coverage.
“It felt good," Griffin said. "When you don’t play a game for three months and come back, you can be a little bit rusty. There are some things, just routine things that I could have hit and done a better job of. When that does happen, you have a decision to make. You can either fold or fight through it. I’m happy with how I fought through it.
"The guys helped me get through some of that," he said. "We just have to find ways to start fast and finish strong. I felt like we did a good job of coming out in the second half and putting points on that board and giving ourselves a chance to win the game. We can’t dig ourselves into a hole like that to have to claw out of it.”
Despite missing arguably two of their best offensive weapons, A.J. Green and Gio Bernard, the Bengals showed the gap between third place and the Browns at the bottom of the AFC North. The Bengals were just 4-7-1 entering the game and their offense was without two of their most explosive weapons in Green and Bernard but it didn't matter as the Bengals moved the ball at ease on their opening drive two drives. On the first drive, Tyler Eifert caught a 14-yard pass from Andy Dalton for the score and Jeremy Hill scored on a one-yard run on the second drive. The second drive took a few more plays after the Browns punted and the 13 points were all the Bengals would need. The Bengals extended their lead to 20-0 with 5:06 to play in first half as Dalton hit Eifert for his second touchdown of the game from five yards out. Eifert had three touchdowns in a game against the Browns last season.
"Obviously, I don’t think we fit some things as well as we did in the second half in the first half," Hue Jackson said. "Our second half, the defense showed up and fought their butts off. In the first half, they kind of had us on our heels a little bit. They did a good job that way. We have to get better.”
The Browns were down 20-0 before they moved the ball on the opening drive of the second half. Griffin scored a quarterback sneak with 8:11 to play as he went in behind center Cameron Erving to make the score 20-7. Isaiah Crowell had a 42-yard run to jump start the drive on a draw play up the middle to the Bengals 38. On second-and-five from the 20, Griffin hit Corey Coleman for a short pass and Coleman broke a tackle and picked up 15 yards to the five-yard line. A personal foul on Carlos Dunlap was tacked on to the three.
On first down, fullback Dan Vitale was wide open at the goal line, but dropped the would-be touchdown pass. Crowell ran on second down to the one-yard line and then Griffin scored on the next play. The Browns moved 80 yards on 10 plays for their only touchdown of the game.
On the Browns second possession of the second half, Griffin led the Browns on a 69-yard drive that resulted in a field goal to make the score 20-10 with 14:14 to play. The drive was sparked by a 21-yard screen pass from Griffin to Duke Johnson and then a 30-yard run by Crowell. The Browns were able to get to the Bengals 11 before stalling and scoring on the field goal.
Just when it seemed the momentum might be changing the Bengals took the kickoff after the field goal and took it right at the Browns defense, moving 57 yards in 11 plays to put the game all but out of reach with a 44-yard field goal by Mike Nugent.
Needing two touchdowns, the Browns got the ball back and moved to the Bengals 48 on a 21-yard run by Johnson, but back-to-back sacks on Griffin forced the Browns to punt back to Cincinnati. The Bengals ran the majority of the time off the clock from there.
Predictable Outcome: The Browns once again won the coin toss and deferred until the second half. The Bengals took the opening kickoff and marched 73 yards in just six plays to take a 7-0 lead before the Browns received the ball.
Ogbah leads Sack: DE Emmanuel Ogbah lead the Browns with 1.5 sacks. He had a solo and teamed up with DL Stephen Paea for another. LB Cam Johnson had the Browns first sack on QB Andy Dalton in the first quarter. LB Jamie Collins in first half. Ogbah had six tackles.
Top Tackler: LB Jamie Collins had 15 tackles to lead the Browns defense. LB Demario Davis had seven, as did DL Danny Shelton.
The Crow: RB Isaiah Crowell had just 27 yards on four carries in the first half, but exploded with a 42-yard run on the second play of the second half. Crowell finished with 113 yards on 10 carries. Crowell had a 42-yard run and a 30-yard run in the second half. RB Duke Johnson had 24 yards on 4 carries, including 21 on one run. He also caught a pass for 21 yards. Crowell caught one pass for five yards.
Pryor Shut Down: WR Terrelle Pryor caught just one pass for three yards on three targets. WR Corey Coleman had 11 targets but caught just three passes for 26 yards. TE Gary Barnidge had three receptions for 27 yards.
No First Half Offense: The Browns had trouble moving the ball on the ground and through the air. In the first half, RB Isaiah Crowell had 27 yards on four carries in the first half and RB Duke Johnson had just three yards on three carries. Griffin had 21 yards on four carries.
Gambling: The Browns went for it from their own 21 in the first quarter on fourth-and-one as Griffin did a quarterback sneak. The Browns made the first down by inches.
Air It Out: Griffin threw a pass about 60 yards in the air in the first quarter to WR Corey Coleman, but the pass was broken up. On a flea-flicker from the end zone, Griffin threw another deep pass, but it was intercepted by DB George Iloka setting up a Bengals score on a short field.
Most Entertaining play: It's come to this, the most entertaining play of the game came after the Bengals second PAT attempt as the botched snap resulted in Tank Carder lateral to Joe Haden and it ended up in Ibraheim Campbell's hands, who was finally tackled near midfield.
End of McCown's Time: With QB Josh McCown being inactive for Sunday's game, barring injury to Griffin or Kessler, he likely won't play again this season for the Browns.
Simone in the House: Olympic Gold Medal gymnast Simone Biles was at FirstEnergy Stadium and led the fans in a chant of "Here we go Brownies, here we go."