CINCINNATI -- Joe Burrow didn’t want to talk about past games against the Cleveland Browns. He said he’s focused on this upcoming matchup, as the Cincinnati Bengals seek to avoid going winless in the first round of AFC North competition.
The previous “Battle of Ohio” games just haven’t gone that well for Burrow. He’s 0-3 against the Browns and the Bengals have been swept by their in-state rivals the past two years.
Cincinnati (4-3), which already has a loss to Baltimore and Pittsburgh this season, travels to Cleveland (2-5) for a Monday Night Football matchup on Halloween.
“Those are in the past,” Burrow said. “Obviously, you would have liked to win those games but every game, every week is a new week.”
Burrow doesn’t believe he has ever had a three-game losing streak to an opponent at any level. He and most of the other Bengals starters didn’t play the regular-season finale at Cleveland last year after the team had already clinched a playoff spot and wanted to rest up and stay healthy for the postseason.
But the Bengals haven’t forgotten the loss they suffered at home against the Browns in 2021, even if they don’t want to talk about it. Cleveland handed the Bengals their worst defeat (41-16) of the season. Denzel Ward set the tone with a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown on the opening possession, picking off Burrow on a pass intended for Ja’Marr Chase. It was the first of three Bengals turnovers.
“I’m going to try and talk about this year’s matchup,” Burrow said when asked about Ward’s interception. “Obviously last year is last year.”
That turnover hurt, and the other two — an interception and a fumble — happened deep in the Bengals’ own end and led to points for the Browns.
The Bengals’ defense, which had excelled all season at preventing long plays and were among the league’s best against the run, gave up a 60-yard touchdown catch, a 70-yard touchdown run and allowed Nick Chubb 137 yards rushing. But Burrow pointed to the turnovers as the difference in all of his “Battle of Ohio” matchups.
“Last year they did a good job of creating turnovers, we didn’t do a good enough job of protecting the ball,” he said. “You have to credit them for that. And then, going back to my rookie year. Same thing, they’ve been able to create turnovers on us. We moved the ball for the most part but we’ve just got to be able to protect the ball and the defense will be able to do what they do.”
Ward might not be available Monday. He missed the Browns’ last two games in concussion protocol and did not practice Thursday, according to Cleveland-area media.
Burrow is still trying to prepare his receivers to face him, just in case.
“Denzel just always makes it hard,” Burrow said. “I talk about it with Chido (Awuzie) all the time too, there’s nothing easy. Whether it’s a short hitch, a go-ball, a basic, an out route, there’s nothing easy with Denzel. He’s always going to be in the picture and competing and trying to knock the ball away. One, our timing has to be great; two, our receivers have to catch the ball violently and physically and control through the catch because he will try to punch it out at every moment.”
Burrow will need some help from his offensive line with Myles Garrett expected to line up against right tackle La’el Collins and Jadeveon Clowney testing left tackle Jonah Williams. The Bengals have shored up their pass protection since allowing 13 sacks in the first two games, allowing 11 sacks over the last five.
Clowney hasn’t sacked Burrow in his two meetings against him – once in 2020 with Tennessee and once last year with Cleveland – but Garrett has 4.5 sacks in three games against him.
“(They) cause as many problems as any defensive end duo that’s out there and you have to be aware of them at all times,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said.
Weather also could play a factor in the passing game for the Bengals, who are coming off their best performance in a 35-17 win over Atlanta. Early forecasts are predicting rain, though Burrow noted it’s only a 30 percent chance.
“Every game you’ve got to take into account how the conditions are,” Burrow said. “Everyone can talk about how that doesn’t really affect the game — it does. If it’s really windy or it’s wet, it’s going to affect your ability to throw the ball down the field, throw the ball in certain situations, and you’ve got to take care of the ball a lot better. But it affects both teams. Whoever handles those conditions is going to win the game.”
Bengals at Browns, 8:15 p.m., ESPN, ESPN2, 700, 1290, 1530, 95.7, 102.7, 104.7