Browns dominate Bengals 24-3, move into 1st place
CINCINNATI — Cornerback Joe Haden led a line of Browns players jumping to slap hands with joyous fans in the first row. The stadium was filled with the sound of woofing.
Felt like times from way, way back when.
And with a dominating performance, the Browns suggested they've finally made it all the way back.
The team that has been the AFC North's bottom dweller for years climbed back into the top spot Thursday night. The Browns were all over Andy Dalton all night long, turning a first-place showdown into a shockingly one-sided 24-3 victory.
With every interception and every sack, the Browns showed they're for real.
"This is a little different Browns team than the rest of the league is used to seeing," said Haden, who shadowed A.J. Green all over the field and shut him down again.
Cleveland (6-3) improved on its best start in 20 years and moved into a first-place tie with Pittsburgh. The Browns also snapped their streak of 17 straight losses to division opponents on the road.
The last win? Also in Cincinnati, a 20-12 victory on Sept. 28, 2008.
"A huge boost for our guys," coach Mike Pettine said. "Just look at the streaks we ended. Not many people gave us a chance."
Just like the Browns, the Bengals (5-3-1) were trying to break away from some bad franchise history. They've played some of their worst games in prime time and wanted to show they were finally ready to hold up under the national attention.
Instead, they crumbled along with their quarterback. They also got drubbed 43-17 during a Sunday night game in New England this season.
Cincinnati fell to 18-41 in prime time.
"It does confound me," coach Marvin Lewis said. "For whatever reason, the two times (in prime time) this year we didn't play well. Because we were at home, there was an energy and excitement instead of being steely-eyed and focusing on what we have to do."
Dalton was 10 of 33 for 86 yards with three interceptions and two sacks and a passer rating of 2. It was another big-game meltdown for the fourth-year quarterback, who has led his team to the playoffs three years in a row only to lose opening games all three times.
"We didn't start fast and that's on me," Dalton said. "I missed a couple early and could never get into a rhythm."
The game marked the first since 1986 — when Bernie Kosar and Boomer Esiason were the quarterbacks — that the intrastate rivals played with first place on the line so late in the season. The Browns won that one 34-3.