The Browns went into Sunday’s “Battle for Ohio” having lost 25 straight times on the road. Their last win away from home came on Oct. 11, 2015, in Baltimore.
Baker Mayfield had a marvelous first half that was good enough to carry the Browns (4-6-1), who avoided losing to a team with Hue Jackson on its sideline.
Marvin Lewis added Jackson to the Bengals’ staff as a defensive assistant two weeks after the Browns fired him Oct. 29.
On Sunday, he got a good look at how much Mayfield has improved in a little less than a month.
After the game, Jackson went to congratulate Mayfield and was rebuffed somewhat by the Cleveland quarterback.
“I don’t know. Left Cleveland, goes down to Cincinnati, I don’t know,” Mayfield tried to explain why he didn’t feel like talking to his former coach. “It’s just somebody that was in our locker room, asking for us to play for him and then goes to a different team we play twice a year. Everybody can have their spin on it but that’s how I feel.”
That will endear himself to Cleveland fans who saw their Browns win back-to-back games for the first time since 2014.
Mayfield threw three first-half touchdown passes and a career-high four on the day. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 258 yards and quarterback rating of 143.9.
In his last outing before last week’s bye, Mayfield was 17 of 20 for 216 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-16 victory over Atlanta.
When asked what the difference has been, the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft said there’s been a few reasons.
“Good play calling, good execution,” Mayfield said on why things clicked for the Browns in the first half. “The line is giving me time and I’m getting the ball out quickly to our playmakers and they’re doing the rest.”
The Browns scored the first four times they had the ball. After fellow rookie Nick Chubb opened the scoring with a 1-yard plunge, Mayfield went to work.
He threw 13-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Calloway. It was David Njoku’s turn next as he gathered in a 6-yard scoring strike. Chubb’s second touchdown of the day, a circus-like 14-yard grab gave the Browns a 28-0 lead.
Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton drove the Bengals (5-6) late in the second period to their first touchdown of the game, a 2-yard pass to John Ross.
Mayfield was 17 of 21 for 245 yards in the first half.
“We’re doing a lot of different things, but we have to run the ball better,” Mayfield said. And with the Browns trying to establish the ground game, the Bengals made the game interesting despite losing their starting quarterback and falling behind by four touchdowns early in the third period.
On their first possession of the second half, center Billy Price sailed a snap over Dalton’s head. In the scrum to recover the ball, Dalton suffered an injury to his thumb and left the game for good.
“I just pulled it,” Price told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “That’s it. I just pulled it. Something that doesn’t happen. I’ve never done that. I just held on to it a little too much and just pulled it. It’s a mistake on my part.”
Dalton, who struggled all day was done for the day.
“On first look and everything it’s not (serious),” Lewis told reporters. “They’re going to do some further tests. He’s had some scans. But again, they’re going to continue to look.”
Backup Jeff Driskel was thrust into action with Dalton knocked out of the game.
The seldom-used Driskel led the Bengals on two scoring drives to cut the Browns’ lead to 35-20. Late in the fourth, the Bengals had the momentum and an opportunity to narrow the deficit to one possession. But dropped balls and penalties doomed them.
“You never want to see anybody go down,” Driskel said. “That’s unfortunate, but I was ready to go. I’ve been ready all year long. I just told those guys, ‘hey we’re going to come back and win this game.'”
The former Florida/Louisiana Tech product completed 17 of 29 for 155 yards and a touchdowns, and ran for a score.
Driskel earned the respect of many of his teammates for his effort.
“I loved it,” Cincinnati wide receiver Tyler Boyd said. “He handled himself well. He got everybody in spots they needed to be. He controlled the offense well. He made plays on his feet and in the air. We were rolling in our offense. He’s a very confident player and I’m very happy we got him.”