CLEVELAND — Cincinnati’s offense came into town flying high.
The Browns defense grounded it.
Cleveland forced two turnovers and limited the Bengals to 100 net yards in the first half and shut them out for three quarters while building a 25-point lead that translated to a 32-13 win Monday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Browns 32, Bengals 13: Cleveland ends 4-game skid with dominant performance
“Those guys (the defensive backs) really wanted to get after them and they definitely had this one circled, I think we all did as far as what they said about us and our defense and what they were going to do,” defensive end Myles Garrett said. “And we can’t wait to see them again at their house.”
Eight days earlier, Cincinnati dropped 537 yards on the Atlanta Falcons in a 35-17 Week 7 win. Ohio native Joe Burrow completed 34 of 42 passes for 481 yards and three touchdowns, though he was sacked three times.
Commentary: Bye bye, bad vibes, Browns head to bye week on a high
Monday’s night incarnation of the Bengals looked nothing like last week’s version. Perhaps because it was missing star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase — who’s expected to miss at least a few weeks with a hip injury — or perhaps the Browns defense found an answer.
The Bengals finished with 229 net yards, many coming in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand. While Burrow completed 15 of his 20 first-half attempts, most of them were dump-offs or screens to his running backs. He finished with 232 yards and two touchdowns.
Cleveland sacked Burrow five times and forced him into committing both first-half turnovers. He was intercepted by backup cornerback A.J. Green — not to be confused with Cincinnati’s former star receiver who plays for Arizona — in a play that stalled the opening drive.
Garrett deflected the pass that led to Green’s interception, a prelude of things to come as the star defensive end wreaked havoc in the trenches and set the tone.
“That first tipped pass leading to an interception and then that sack, it felt like everyone was like, ‘The bank is open. Everyone grab something,’” said Garrett, who had 1.5 sacks. “I was rushing to get to the passer to make a big play, but there were a lot of guys playing lights out. It was just beautiful to see.”
He caused chaos in the second quarter in helping the Browns secure a Cincinnati fumble. Sione Takitaki ultimately stripped Burrow, and Tommy Togiai recovered the fumble.
“I feel like we really played a good group game,” said Takitaki, who had a game-high 13 tackles. “We were really sparking on the defense. We let some get past us, but we were definitely connecting. The rush and cover, especially with the Bengals being a high-powered throwing team, I felt like we were definitely firing from defense to coverage and it worked out best for us.”
Cincinnati put together a drive to the Cleveland 25-yard line late in the first half. Rookie Isaiah Thomas sacked Burrow for a 9-yard loss and the Bengals were forced to run a dump to Samaje Perine that gave them a chance to get on the board. However, Evan McPherson missed a 47-yard field goal.
Cleveland eventually built its lead to 25-0 through the third quarter with the Browns scoring a touchdown to open the half then forcing a three-and-out thanks to Deion Jones coming up with a sack on third down.
The Bengals finally got on the board to open the fourth quarter with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to Tyler Boyd. The Browns, however, had more than enough cushion to keep Cincinnati at bay.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Thomas said. “We know what we have in this room and in this locker room. Guys out there really want it. When we’re out there executing like we’re capable of it’s fun and when it’s fun you’re out there playing free and making more plays.”
The defense was a major problem for much of the first seven games, with communication breakdowns in the secondary and bad run defense. The Browns have been much better the last two weeks, starting with a 23-20 loss in Baltimore in which they held quarterback Lamar Jackson in check. Garrett said the defense is starting to turn the corner.
“We put together two pretty good performances in a row,” he said. “This one was big, showing up in the first half and keeping them under 17 points. That is what we look to do every game. This type of performance is something we need to stack on.
“It has to be routine. It has to be the standard. We have to make sure that everything we did leading up to this game is the same the week after this one. I think we have what it takes. We have taken our lumps, but we will show what we have and our dedication to the game and what it takes to get wins in this league because they don’t come easily. Right now, to get a win like this, and in a dominant fashion, it is showing the guys how good we can really be.”