Matthew Herchik

Bengals blowout Browns in Cleveland

by Matthew Herchik on October 1, 2017 at 8:02 pm

CLEVELAND (AP) — Andy Dalton threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first half and Cincinnati’s offense found the perfect opponent to work out some early season struggles and the Bengals rolled to a 31-7 win on Sunday over the over-matched Cleveland Browns.

Dalton only missed on one throw in the first half, going 17 of 18 for 215 yards as the Bengals (1-3) built a 21-0 lead.

He connected with A.J. Green, Tyler Kroft and Giovani Bernard while dissecting the young Browns (0-4), who were again plagued by mistakes and were down three defensive starters.

Dalton, who came in as the NFL’s 30th-ranked QB, finished 25 of 30 for 286 yards. His second TD to Kroft in the third quarter made it 31-0, and sent even some of the most die-hard Browns fans toward the FirstEnergy Stadium exits.

The Browns avoided a shutout with 1:54 left.

This was the breakthrough the Bengals were looking for after a sluggish start, which included coach Marvin Lewis firing offensive coordinator Ken Zampese after the offense failed to score a TD in its first two games. But after a solid performance last week with Bill Lazor calling plays in an overtime loss at Green Bay, the Bengals broke free against the Browns.

Everybody does.

Cleveland fell to 1-19 in two seasons under coach Hue Jackson, who has been handed the league’s youngest roster and is trying to break in rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer without many weapons.

The Browns are hurting themselves with unforced errors, but they’re also regressing since a 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh in week 1.

With hard-hitting linebacker Vontaze Burfict back from a three-game suspension, Cincinnati’s defense also got to flex its muscles. Burfict made his presence known with his typical hits and he was also flagged for roughing Kizer in the fourth quarter.

The Browns were again without top pick Myles Garrett. The rookie pass rusher returned to practice Thursday and didn’t report any problems, but the Browns are being cautious and will delay his regular-season debut at least one more week. They were also missing starting outside linebacker Jamie Collins (concussion) and massive tackle Danny Shelton (calf).

Dalton dominated the rest of Cleveland’s defense.

Already up by two TDs, the Bengals got the ball back with 1:40 left in the first half and appeared content to play it safe and maybe get into field-goal position.

But the Browns blitzed and Dalton alertly dumped the ball into the right flat to the speedy Bernard. With a convoy of blockers in front of him, Bernard streaked untouched to the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown.

Later in the quarter, Cleveland was threatening to score, but disappointing wide receiver Kenny Britt let a pass go through his hands, off his shoulder pads and into the hands of Cincinnati’s Clayton Fejedelem for an interception.

Dalton took it from there, completing six straight passes before threading his first scoring strike to Kroft, who filled in for the injured Tyler Eifert.