Replay: Deshaun Watson improves, but Browns fall to Bengals 23-10 as playoff hopes are dashed
Winners of their previous two games, the Browns entered Sunday's AFC North showdown against the Cincinnati Bengals confident and clinging to playoff hopes.
But any realistic shot Cleveland had to sneak into the postseason ended with a 23-10 loss in Cincinnati.
It's time to write those 2022 season obituaries for the Browns (5-8) after they fell to the defending AFC champion Bengals (9-4), who won their fifth game in a row.
The Browns were coming off a victory over the one-win Houston Texans (despite scoring no offensive touchdowns) and a thrilling overtime win over Tom Brady and the Tamp Bay Buccaneers.
Now their momentum is dead, just like their season. They haven't been mathematically eliminated from a playoff berth, but it's just a matter of time.
Cleveland Browns quick hits:Slim playoff hopes take devastating hit with loss to Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals' last loss was a 32-13 setback in Cleveland on a Halloween edition of "Monday Night Football." This time around, Cincinnati ended Cleveland's five-game winning streak in the series known as "The Battle of Ohio." Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow beat the Browns for the first time in five tries.
Here are scoring updates and analysis from the game:
Cleveland Browns stall in red zone in crunch time
The Browns advanced to the Bengals 6-yard line but needed a touchdown to mount a serious comeback attempt.
On fourth-and-goal, Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson's pass to wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones on a fade route into the left side of the end zone fell incomplete with cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt covering.
The incomplete pass resulted in a turnover on downs with 5:25 left to play.
The Browns defense registered a stop, but Watson threw low and behind wide receiver Amari Cooper on fourth-and-4 from the Cincinnati 42, yielding another turnover on downs with 3:43 remaining. Then the Bengals ran out the clock for the win.
Deshaun Watson throws interception while Browns attempt to rally in fourth quarter vs. Bengals
Watson proved he wasn't nearly as rusty as he was last week, when he played in a real NFL game for the first time in 700 days.
Yet he also has not fully regained the form he had as a three-time Pro Bowl selection, one who received a historic $230 million fully guaranteed from the Browns when they traded for him in March in a blockbuster deal with the Texans.
Trailing by 13 points and facing first-and-10 at the Cleveland 42-yard line, Watson threw a pass intended for Peoples-Jones, but safety Jessie Bates III intercepted it at the 37 and returned 7 yards to the Bengals 44 with 13:39 left in the fourth quarter.
The Cleveland defense got the ball back for Watson, though. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney batted a Burrow pass, and linebacker Deion Jones intercepted the ball with 10:43 left in the fourth quarter.
The Browns took possession at their 29-yard line.
Bengals bolster their cushion to 23-10 with Evan McPherson field goal
On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Bengals went ahead 23-10 with Evan McPherson's 30-yard field goal with 14:57 left to play.
The Bengals produced the six-play, 63-yard scoring drive on the series after the Browns reached the end zone for the first and only time.
Browns offense scores first touchdown with Deshaun Watson and cuts Bengals' lead to 20-10
The Browns countered the Bengals' third touchdown of the day by scoring their lone offensive TD with Watson, the quarterback who made his regular-season debut with Cleveland last week after serving an 11-game suspension tied to allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault during massage appointments.
The Browns faced fourth-and-5 at the Cincinnati 33-yard line when Watson and tight end David Njoku connected for 6 yards and a first down.
On the next two plays, Watson and Njoku hooked up for gains of 14 and 13 yards, the latter a catch-and-run touchdown with 2:17 left in the third quarter. As a result, the Browns decreased the Bengals' advantage to 20-10.
full extension at the pylon 🔥
📺: #CLEvsCIN on CBS
📱: Stream on NFL+ pic.twitter.com/DfGMHlo9gZ
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 11, 2022
Browns fall for flea-flicker and get burned for touchdown as they fall behind 20-3
Burrow handed off to running back Joe Mixon.
Mixon tossed the ball back to Burrow, and Burrow perfectly executed the flea-flicker by throwing a 45-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Trenton Irwin.
The Cleveland defense was fooled by the play and left Irwin wide open. The score allowed the Bengals to take a 20-3 lead with 7:26 remaining in the third quarter.
FLEA FLICKER ALERT#CLEvsCIN | 📺 CBS pic.twitter.com/qN7pIZonMl
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 11, 2022
Cade York shows frustration over lack of field-goal attempt just before Browns head to halftime in 13-3 hole
Before Watson's Hail Mary fell incomplete to end the second quarter with the Browns trailing the Bengals 13-3 at halftime, rookie kicker Cade York voiced his displeasure to special teams coordinator Mike Priefer on the sideline.
The CBS telecast showed York pointing to himself and raising his arms while saying, "Come on," among other things. It would have been a 68-yard field goal.
Penalties kill Browns in first half vs. Bengals
A sack split by defensive end Myles Garrett and rookie defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey was wiped out by offsetting penalties — defensive holding on safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. and offensive holding on tackle La'el Collins.
The result was a replay of third-and-10 from the Cincinnati 47-yard line. Burrow capitalized with a 34-yard pass to wide receiver Trent Taylor.
Four plays later, running back Samaje Perine rushed for a 6-yard touchdown to give the Bengals a 13-3 lead with 24 seconds left in the second quarter. McPherson missed the ensuing extra point wide left.
The Browns had seven penalties for 83 yards through the first two quarters.
Cade York field goal cuts Browns' deficit vs. Bengals to 7-3
The Browns answered a Cincinnati touchdown drive by cutting the Bengals' lead to 7-3 with 2:59 left in the second quarter.
After Bengals defensive tackle DJ Reader batted a Watson pass on third-and-6 from the Cincinnati 8-yard line, the Browns settled for York's successful 26-yard field goal and a four-point deficit.
Cleveland Browns fuel Cincinnati Bengals' scoring drive with penalties
Linebacker Tony Fields II, one of the heroes last week for the Browns, gifted the Bengals a first down by roughing punter Drue Chrisman on fourth-and-15 from the Cincinnati 17-yard line.
Later during the same series, the Browns were penalized on back-to-back snaps. Rookie defensive end Isaiah Thomas was flagged for illegal use of hands against Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams, negating a sack by Clowney. Then Browns cornerback Denzel Ward was called for pass interference against Bengals star receiver Ja'Marr Chase. The penalty cost the Browns 33 yards.
Four plays later, Burrow threw a 15-yard touchdown pass between Ward and safety John Johnson III and into the hands of Chase in the end zone. The nine-play, 85-yard drive allowed the Bengals to capture a 7-0 lead with 9:43 left in the second quarter.
Cleveland Browns' gamble with Jacoby Brissett doesn't pay off
After the Bengals opened the game by going three-and-out, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski summoned backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett from the sideline to replace starter Watson for a key fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 25-yard line.
Stefanski must have thought the Bengals would be focused on Brissett rushing on a quarterback sneak and therefore would be vulnerable downfield. Well, Brissett attempted a deep pass into the end zone, but he overthrew Peoples-Jones, resulting in a turnover on downs with 9:50 left in the first quarter.
The strangest aspect of Stefanski's decision is Watson didn't begin the game in Cincinnati with the rust that plagued him last week throughout his Browns debut in Houston. Watson actually completed his first three passes against the Bengals for 34 yards, but he was still swapped with Brissett for the fourth-down play.
Cleveland Browns column:Kevin Stefanski must now show he's right for Deshaun Watson
Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd injured early in game vs. Browns
Bengals starting receiver Tyler Boyd went to the Cincinnati locker room early in the game with an injured finger on his right hand. In the second quarter, the Bengals ruled out Boyd for the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, fellow Bengals standout receiver Tee Higgins (hamstring) was active, but he wasn't a factor versus the Browns. In the second quarter, the Bengals labeled Higgins as questionable to return to the action.
The Bengals offense withtout Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Hayden Hurst looks a lot different and you're seeing it right now. CLE doubling Ja'Marr Chase and forcing Trent Taylor and Trenton Irwin to beat them
— Kelsey Conway (@KelseyLConway) December 11, 2022
Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton limped off the field and to the Cincinnati sideline after the Cleveland offense's second play. Hilton was accompanied by medical personnel as he exited the game, but he returned to the field later in the opening quarter.
Here's some additional info on the game:
What TV channel is the Browns at Bengals game on?
The game kicked off at 1 p.m. It aired on CBS.
Myles Garrett vs. Joe Burrow:'Well, they have Myles Garrett': Browns star key to success against Bengals' Joe Burrow
How to listen to Bengals vs Browns on the radio
Browns games air locally on the radio on 92.3 The Fan (WKRK-FM), ESPN 850 WKNR and WNCX (98.5 FM) with Jim Donovan (play-by-play), Nathan Zegura (color) and Jerod Cherry (sideline).
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals betting odds, moneyline
Moneyline: Browns +200 (bet $100 to win $200) | Bengals -240 (bet $240 to win $100)
Against the spread: Browns +5.5 (-108) | Bengals -5.5 (-112)
Over/Under: 46 (O: -110 | U: -110)
AFC North standings entering Sunday
Where Browns fit in NFL playoff picture:NFL playoff picture entering Week 14: Raiders' hopes fade, two divisions close to wrapping
AFC North remaining schedules
Ravens: at Steelers, at Browns, vs. Falcons, vs. Steelers, at Bengals
Bengals: vs. Browns, at Buccaneers, at Patriots, vs. Bills, vs. Ravens
Browns: at Bengals, vs. Ravens, vs. Saints, at Commanders, at Steelers
Steelers: vs. Ravens, at Panthers, vs. Raiders, at Ravens, vs. Browns
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Browns vs Bengals series history entering Sunday's meeting
The Bengals lead the all-time regular-season series 51-47. The Browns won the last game in Week 8 of this season on Oct. 31 in Cleveland.
Browns RB Nick Chubb's stats vs. the Cincinnati Bengals entering Sunday
Over the course of his NFL career, Nick Chubb has had a lot of success against the Bengals. He's rushed for at least 100 yards in five of his eight career games against Cincinnati, totaling 763 yards and seven touchdowns on 143 carries. In this year's first game vs. the Bengals, he delivered a 101-yard, two-TD performance on Oct. 31.
His numbers against the other two AFC North rivals:
544 yards and six TDs in nine career games against the Baltimore Ravens.
576 yards and two TDs in eight games against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What did Deshaun Watson do in his Browns debut?
Watson made his debut for the Browns in Week 13. Watson was booed by fans and looked like a player who hasn't played in nearly two years. The Browns may have beaten Watson's former team, the Texans, but he completed just 12-of-22 passes for 131 yards with an interception.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns offense with Deshaun Watson stalls out in loss to Bengals