CINCINNATI (AP) — Bengals coach Marvin Lewis exuded confidence when he fired his defensive coordinator and assumed leadership of the NFL’s worst defense. All he’s gotten is two more losses that have essentially scuttled Cincinnati’s fading hopes.
The Bengals are free falling, with no sign of slowing down. And now their starting quarterback is hurt, too.
Baker Mayfield set a Browns rookie record with four touchdown passes, and Cleveland ended one of the NFL’s longest streaks of road futility on Sunday with a 35-20 victory over the hapless Bengals, who lost Andy Dalton to a thumb injury.
The Bengals (5-6) can’t do the simple things right, contributing to a streak of five losses in six games. They’ve fallen from first in the AFC North to third, only a half-game ahead of the Browns.
“I’ve got to prepare them better,” Lewis said. “OK? It rests with me.”
Against the Browns, they were overmatched from the start.
Cleveland (4-6-1) won on the road for the first time since 2015, emphatically snapping a streak of 25 straight road losses that was one shy of the Lions’ NFL record. The Browns also ended a run of seven straight losses to their intrastate rival.
The Bengals thought they had one advantage: Hue Jackson on their sideline. It didn’t matter.
The Browns fired Jackson a month ago after he won only three games in two-plus seasons as head coach. Lewis fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin after a 51-14 loss to the Saints, installed himself as coordinator, and hired his close friend Jackson to help with the defense.
The Browns were bothered by the sight of their former coach on the other sideline plotting against them. When safety Damarious Randall picked off one of Dalton’s passes along the sideline, he stepped out of bounds and handed the ball to Jackson , who patted him on the helmet.
Dalton hurt the thumb on his passing hand while trying to recover a fumble in the third quarter and didn’t return. Center Billy Price snapped the ball too high, and Dalton got his hand caught in a scrum for the ball.
“I’ve never done that,” Price said of his poor snap. “I just held onto it a little too much and just pulled it.”
Dalton left the field immediately for testing. Lewis said the injury doesn’t appear to be season-ending, but more tests were being performed.
The Browns turned the fumble recovery into Mayfield’s fourth TD pass for a 35-7 lead. Dalton was 10 of 17 for 100 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Jeff Driskel took over and went 17 of 29 for 155 yards with a touchdown pass and a TD run. He’ll start against the Broncos next Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium if Dalton can’t play.
“I know personally what I’ve known all along, and that’s that I can play at this level and give our team a chance to win,” Driskel said.
The Bengals already were missing cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, receiver A.J. Green and left tackle Cordy Glenn, inactive with injuries. Jake Fisher started at left tackle and hurt his back late in the first half. Cornerback Tony McRae suffered a concussion in the third quarter and gave two thumbs-up as he was wheeled off the field.
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