The Cleveland Browns won their way into an opportunity to make a play at the AFC North division title, but the Bengals were able to push back against the Browns on Sunday afternoon, reasserting themselves as the AFC North division leader.
In recent weeks, the Bengals have lacked the explosive ability they built their division lead on, and they had looked like a team searching for answers. If they were in fact looking for solutions, they found those answers against the Browns.
Now, the Bengals’ toughest hurdle between themselves and a playoff berth appears to be the Baltimore Ravens.
Even with the win, there’s still plenty of problems that cropped up for the Bengals. Andy Dalton is still making errors that, against a better opponent, could easily cost Cincinnati a game. The Bengals’ rushing game wasn’t terrible, but they were never able to force the Browns to pick between defending the pass or the run.
For as many problems as the Bengals still have, they were able to capitalize on Cleveland’s mistakes, and that’s where the Bengals stretched their advantage Sunday. The Browns maintained touch with the Bengals until Cincinnati was able to transform turnovers into quick, and rather cheap, points. The Bengals were able to block a punt, returning it for a touchdown as well as returning a fumble back for six points. Both plays occurred in the second quarter, and it changed the entire complexion of the game. Instead of being able to keep the game close to their chest, the Browns were forced to try to come from behind the entire second half, something they’re ill-equipped to do.
The Bengals now head into their bye week with matchups against the Chargers and Colts looming large. Both of those teams may be headed to the playoffs, making them true tests for the Bengals. With strong performances in those games, however, the Bengals could be in position to cement their claim to the AFC North.