The Cincinnati Bengals struggled to capitalize on red-zone opportunities the last time they faced the Cleveland Browns, but they found their way on offense just in time to finish off a miserable season on a high note.
Cincinnati scored touchdowns on three consecutive red-zone trips in the first half, running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver Tyler Boyd both reached 1,000-yard milestones for the second consecutive season and the Bengals beat the Browns 33-23 in the season finale Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals (2-14) had failed to score more than two touchdowns in any of the first 14 games, including going 1-for-5 in the red zone during a loss at Cleveland on Dec. 8, but they scored four touchdowns in the second half last week at Miami and added three in the first half Sunday. The quick start proved key in helping Cincinnati to its second win, avoiding a new all-time worst record and instead matching the 2002 team’s 2-14 finish. Randy Bullock’s 46-yard field goal with 1:55 left and a B.W. Webb interception in the final minute sealed the win.
Cleveland (6-10) opened with a three-play scoring drive, capped by Baker Mayfield’s 46-yard touchdown pass to Damion Ratley, but the Bengals answered with a touchdown drive of their own and kept the momentum for the better part of the half before the game leveled off. Mixon broke free for a 41-yard run on his third carry to cross 1,000 yards rushing for the season and set up Andy Dalton’s 204th career touchdown pass, a 15-yarder up the seam to C.J. Uzomah, to tie the game at 7.
Dalton was making what could be his last start for the Bengals, who have the No. 1 draft pick in 2020 and could trade the ninth-year veteran entering the final season of his contract. He finished with 190 yards on 16-for-28 passing with one touchdown and one interception Sunday but is the organization’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes and completions.
Darius Phillips, starting in place of injured cornerback William Jackson, gave the Bengals a chance to take a lead for good when he intercepted Mayfield and returned it 28 yards to the Cleveland 3-yard line. Three plays later, Mixon ran it in to make it 13-7 with 4:45 left in the first quarter.
Boyd crossed 1,000 yards receiving for a second straight season on the first play of the second quarter when he grabbed a 22-yard pass from Dalton. The Bengals finished the drive with a 5-yard scramble by Dalton to extend the lead before Cleveland answered with nine straight points to end the half. Austin Seibert made a 42-yard field goal midway through the second quarter and Jarvis Landry beat Webb up the middle to haul in a 56-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield with 1:52 left to make it a four-point game going into halftime after Seibert missed the PAT.
Shawn Williams tried to come back and make a play on Landry but couldn’t get there in time to stop the catch and Webb ended up running into him, allowing Landry to walk right in.
Mixon added a 2-yard rushing touchdown early in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 30-16 after the Bengals had settled for a field goal on the first drive of the second half, but Odell Beckham came up with a 20-yard catch in the end zone to once again make it a one-score game despite several big plays by the Cincinnati defense.
The Bengals limited NFL rushing leader Nick Chubb to 41 yards on 13 carries and had a field day with Mayfield, sacking him six times and intercepting him three times. Phillips picked him off for a second time in the third quarter. Carlos Dunlap had 2.5 sacks, Carl Lawson had two and Sam Hubbard collected 1.5 sacks.
Mixon’s big day ended up being the difference for Cincinnati. He finished with a career-high 162 yards and two touchdowns to close the season with 1,137 yards. Boyd had 59 yards on seven catches and finished with 1,046 yards receiving for the year. With their milestones reached Sunday, Boyd and Mixon became only the second duo in Bengals history to go for 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in back-to-back years since Chad Johnson and Rudi Johnson did it three times in a row from 2004 to 2006.
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