Nick Chubb, Browns running back
He saved coach Freddie Kitchens.
For some reason Kitchens refused to run the ball in the first half, despite the Bengals having the league’s worst rush defense. He called six runs that gained 17 yards as the Browns went into halftime ahead 14-13. Kitchens came to his senses in the locker room and put the game in Chubb’s hands.
Kareem Hunt ran 6 yards to start the third quarter, then Chubb ran for 2, 7 and 57 — the latest long run in which he wills himself to extra yardage. He has eight carries of 40 yards in his two-year career, including four this season. After an incomplete pass, Hunt took a sweep to the left 3 yards for the touchdown.
“It was huge. It was huge,” Kitchens said of the drive. “We would have run it a little more in the first half if we had not turned the ball over twice.”
Quarterback Baker Mayfield said the Browns looked at the stat sheet at halftime and realized they needed to run more. Chubb finished with 15 carries for 106 yards and a 7.1 average. He leads the league with 1,281 rushing yards.
“Nick had a field day,” he said.
Chubb is putting himself in elite company in the franchise record book. He has six 100-yard rushing games this year, the most since Leroy Kelly’s seven in 1968. And he’s the first Browns player with 75 yards from scrimmage in 13 straight games — the longest active streak in the league. Jim Brown had a 12-game streak in 1961-62.
Zac Taylor, Bengals coach
A first-time head coach who calls plays should sound familiar to Browns fans. This time, the Browns were the beneficiary of the rookie mistakes.
The Bengals totaled 451 yards and held the ball for 34:31 yet managed only 19 points. The red zone was the problem — the Bengals were 1-for-5 — and Taylor’s play calling deserves the blame. Two trips jumped out and changed the game.
The Bengals had first-and-goal from the 2 trailing 21-13 with 5:34 left in the third quarter. Running back Joe Mixon was having a big day and finished with 146 rushing yards, yet Taylor called a pass on first down. Andy Dalton was sacked by tackle Larry Ogunjobi and end Bryan Cox for an 8-yard loss. After two incompletions, Randy Bullock kicked a 28-yard field goal.
“There are a lot of options there on first-and-goal from the 2,” Taylor said. “We are not anticipating a sack, but that’s football. We can’t second-guess ourselves there. We felt good about the position we would be in. They did a good job covering it.”
The second wasted chance came midway through the fourth quarter with the Browns up 24-16. The Bengals had first-and-goal from the 7, and two Mixon runs left them with third down at the 4. Dalton threw incomplete, then was stopped on a quarterback draw on fourth down.
“I felt good on the fourth-down call,” Taylor said. “We ended up getting to a draw. We have a five-man box. We should walk into the end zone. We have to do a better job of executing there.”
Dalton defended his coach.
“We had the look that we wanted for it,” he said. “Obviously it didn’t turn out how we thought it would, but it was the right call.”
PLAY OF THE GAME
Mayfield had just thrown his third interception, this one intended for embattled receiver Odell Beckham Jr. On third-and-5 from the Browns 18 with 5:05 left, Beckham ran a hook on the left sideline and the ball was delivered inside. Cornerback B.W. Webb reached in, deflected the ball away, and safety Jessie Bates III intercepted it, returning it to the 16-yard line.
But every turnover gets reviewed, so the headquarters in New York looked at the play and determined Webb interfered with Beckham. The Browns kept the ball, got a first down and continued a 14-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a 31-yard Austin Seibert field goal for a 27-16 lead with 1:06 left.
Webb certainly made contact early, but the league has rarely called pass interference after replay in the first year it’s allowed to be reviewed.
“You’re saying it’s unclear?” Taylor said of the standard for an interference call on review. “You said it.”
Mayfield said the officials got the call correct.
“One-on-one in a critical situation going to somebody that we trust,” he said. “It was blatant when they looked at the film. Just seeing that at first, I was just upset that I did not put the ball on the outside, but the pass interference call helped us.”
Kitchens was hopeful but not certain.
“I thought we had a good chance once they started looking at it,” he said. “It depends on what their definition of interference is. What you worry about sometimes in those situations is if they call it defensive holding. If they would have called it holding, then it would not have gotten overturned.”
STATS OF THE GAME
Rushing yards allowed by the Browns, including 146 on 23 carries (6.3 average) by Joe Mixon
Cincinnati’s advantage in plays run
QUOTES OF THE GAME
“We should’ve won that game, but the best thing about it is we get to see them in three more weeks in Cincinnati. They’ve got to come to us. I’m excited and I can’t wait.” — Mixon
** “We’re still fighting. We’re in it until they tell us we’re out. We understand we’ve got to go 1-0 each and every week.” — Browns receiver Jarvis Landry on the team’s remote playoff chances
The passing game never got going — Baker Mayfield was 11-for-24 — but the running game finally kicked in in the second half. The Browns were 7-for-12 on third down, which saved the day.
The Bengals marched up and down the field for 451 yards but went 1-for-5 in the red zone.
Denzel Ward made the play of the game with a 61-yard interception return for a touchdown. The Browns played their best inside the 10-yard line.
The Bengals intercepted Mayfield twice but couldn’t stop Nick Chubb in the second half.
Austin Seibert was 2-for-2 on field goals, including a career-long 53-yarder late in the third quarter. Jamie Gillan punted twice, shanking one.
Randy Bullock kept the Bengals in the game with four field goals. Punter Kevin Huber also had a shank.
Freddie Kitchens got his team up for the game, which was a question after a tough loss in Pittsburgh. As a play caller, he didn’t go to the run nearly soon enough.
Zac Taylor looked like the rookie coach he is with his play calls inside the 5.