Following a blow-out loss on the road to the AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens in Week 1, the Cleveland Browns redeemed themselves at home in a Thursday night victory over their cross-state rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals.
On paper, many would look at this game and think it’d be just another dull Thursday night NFL Network game that’ll leave you yawning and periodically flicking between channels. To much surprise, though, this season’s first “Battle of Ohio” was somewhat of a thriller. The two former Heisman winners, Baker Mayfield and rookie Joe Burrow, both put on a show, with the Bengals falling short of a fourth-quarter rally to lose 35-30.
The Bengals now fall to 0-2, and the only team in the division without a win, putting them in last place.
Next up on the schedule is a trip to the “City of Brotherly Love” to take on the Philadelphia Eagles, who are coming off of a terrible loss and also seeking their first win of the year.
Just like Week 1, Cincinnati can come out of this loss with their heads held high. A team that’s been the doormat of the division (and the entire league, for that matter) over the last few seasons, the Bengals seem to now be on an upward trajectory. Although the defensive unit had a rough outing against Cleveland Thursday night, the product on the field this year has, thus far, looked better than in 2019, even with all of their key injuries. As for the offense, it’s safe to say the Bengals are on the rise.
The 2020 season will, without question, be an improvement from 2019 for Cincinnati.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Of course, we start with the leader of the pack and the star of the show: Joe Burrow. The rookie QB battled all game, throwing his way to 316 yard and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. The first-overall pick looked more comfortable in his second career game and maneuvered well, for the most part. Burrow displayed good velocity on his passes and showed off that sneaky athleticism again. (Maybe it isn’t so sneaky, after all.) The offensive line didn’t hold up well against the sneakily-good Browns defensive front (eight QB hits allowed), but he remained poised and fought to bring his team back. The kid looked like a future star, in all frankness, and the organization seems to have made the right decision on their franchise QB.
Tyler Boyd was the team’s leading receiver for the night, finishing the game with 72 receiving yards on seven receptions, including a late fourth-quarter TD that made it a one-score game. This was redemption for a costly drop he had earlier in the game. However, Boyd had a solid overall performance, with multiple chain-moving catches to keep the offense on the field. He was clearly the Bengals’ best receiving option for the evening.
The second-year tight end tied for the team-lead in receptions with seven, while finishing second on the team in receiving yards with 45. He had a mini-highlight, one-handed snag for which he had to reach back from a Burrow pass that was slightly behind him. With fellow tight end C.J. Uzomah getting carted off during the game, Drew Sample was a 2019 second-round pick who’ll look to prove to the team why he was worthy of his draft position.
Brandon Wilson, who led the league in kick-return average last season, had two big returns of 45 and 42 yards on the night. He did a great job of giving his offense good field position and help make the rookie quarterback’s job a little easier.
Yikes! Fred Johnson got the start in place of injured guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, but his play left much to be desired — and that’s putting it nicely. He missed several blocks and gave up too much pressure for Joe Burrow and the offense. Johnson may be better off at his natural position (tackle), rather than playing inside. Wouldn’t be surprised if the team replaces him with center Billy Price or guard Shaq Calhoun heading into next week.
Maybe we can cut A.J. Green a little slack due to being out with injury for so long. The guy hasn’t played live-action football in a really long time. Still, in all, Green did not play up to his standards on Thursday’s national stage. He looked a step slower, and was constantly blanked by Browns corner Denzel Ward. The former All-Pro receiver would finish the game with only three receptions for 29 yards on a whopping 13 targets. Green might also have a hard time next game, too, when he’ll likely be shadowed by Eagles’ shutdown CB Darius Slay.
Cincinnati’s defense was gashed all night by running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, thanks in part to the dreadful play of linebackers Josh Bynes and Germaine Pratt. Cleveland would rush for a total of 215 yards and three touchdowns as a team. Both Bynes and Pratt missed numerous tackles, and were beat in coverage across the middle on those signature Baker Mayfield roll-out plays. They were also getting exposed on play-action. To be fair, the linebackers weren’t the only defenders missing tackles, but they kept letting the Browns’ backs into the second level and practically let them have whatever they wanted.
Joe Burrow Certainly Looks the Part…So Far
As mentioned earlier, the Cincinnati Bengals have what appears to be the makings of a “franchise” quarterback. In the National Football League, the search for that true leader of your organization — a consistent, high-level player at the helm — can be a daunting and arduous task. The first-overall pick of the 2020 draft, albeit in just two games, has done a good job with standing up to the face of pressure. If Burrow can keep up the way he played on Thursday Night Football and build off of that performance, Cincinnati should definitely make some noise and gain more respect around the league. The team is in good hands.
O-Line Needs Big Help
After a rough outing in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Bengals’ offensive line gave up three sacks and eight QB hits to the Browns. They also allowed Cleveland’s defenders to make plenty of tackles for losses or minimal gain. RB Joe Mixon had a hard time getting anything going and only ran for 46 yards on 14 carries; a pedestrian 2.9 yards-per-carry average. The interior is still a big question mark (outside of center Trey Hopkins) as well as the right-tackle position that’s currently occupied by oft-scrutinized Bobby Hart. Left-tackle Jonah Williams didn’t play all that great either, but 2020 is basically his rookie season after he missed the entire 2019 due to injury. The unit should gain more chemistry and somewhat improve as the season progresses — hopefully, for the sake of the rookie starting QB.
Kicking Game is Just Fine
Many fans panicked after kicker Randy Bullock missed a game-tying field goal in Week 1 that would’ve likely taken the game to overtime. He immediately reached down to his calf after the miss, and he landed on the injury list for Week 2. Cincinnati signed the recently-released Austin Seibert, who ironically was released by the Browns following an ugly performance in their Week 1 loss, as an insurance policy. However, Bullock was active for the match-up against Cleveland, and he nailed all three of his field goals (including a 43-yarder), as well as all of his extra points.
- LeBron James is a believer in Joe Burrow.
- Cincinnati signed TE Mason Schreck from the practice squad and placed C.J. Uzomah on IR.
- QB Joe Burrow is confident that they’ll right the ship.
- NFL Network’s Good Morning Football had high praise for Joe Burrow’s performance.
- The Athletic’s Joe Goodberry believes WR Mike Thomas will continue to have a role in the Bengals offense.
(Photo Credit: Ron Schwane for AP Photos / Bengals.com)