The Cincinnati Bengals haven’t forgotten the way the Cleveland Browns handled their victory at Paul Brown Stadium last month.
Damarious Randall handed the ball he intercepted to former Browns coach and current Bengals special assistant Hue Jackson, Jabrill Peppers did a victory lap and Baker Mayfield refused to hug Jackson afterward, offering a cold handshake instead, then later calling him “fake” on Instagram.
Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap said now it’s the Bengals’ turn to have a little fun at the Browns’ expense. The two AFC North rivals meet Sunday in the “Battle of Ohio” in Cleveland, and the Bengals (6-8) seek to avenge a 35-20 loss in the first matchup of the season .
“They rubbed it in our faces the last time they were here,” Dunlap said. “We’ve got an opportunity to return the favor. That’s the facts. They came in here and won the game. They got off to a great start. We adjusted at halftime and fought back into the game, but it was too late. They took advantage of their opportunities so we have to take advantage of ours and we’ve got an opportunity to go into their house and beat them.”
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A rivalry that had cooled over a three-year period of Cincinnati sweeps prior to this season now seems heated again, and it likely grows even a little more intriguing Sunday when Jackson makes his return to FirstEnergy Stadium for the first time since he was fired after a Week 8 loss to Pittsburgh.
Jackson, who was the Bengals’ offensive coordinator before being hired as Cleveland’s head coach in 2016, was booed by the many Browns fans at Paul Brown Stadium last month. He twice declined interviews this week, but several Bengals players said they support Jackson and believe he has been a helpful addition to the organization.
“I play for Hue,” cornerback Darqueze Dennard said. “We all love Hue, love his energy. I think he’s a great coach, so it (a win) would be for him as well. It’s about all of us in the locker room.”
Mayfield, the Browns rookie quarterback, said he refused Jackson’s hug in Cincinnati because he was mad his former coach defected to a division rival so soon after his firing. Jackson joined Marvin Lewis’ staff in Week 10, and the Browns are 4-2 since defensive coordinator Gregg Williams took over as interim head coach.
Related or not, the Bengals have won one game during the time Jackson has been on staff.
Lewis said the Browns “have done a nice job” but said he hasn’t noticed anything different Williams has done to provide a spark on a team that won just three games in two-plus seasons under Jackson.
Lewis also declined to comment about Jackson and Mayfield’s relationship when he participated in a conference call with Cleveland-area media members earlier this week, but Mayfield said he stands by his original comments.
“I said what I said,” Mayfield told media in Cleveland this week, according to transcripts provided by the Browns. “It is another week. We have to hit the reset button. We have to be able to come in, be able to block out the distractions, block out the outside noise like we have week to week every time this season and be able to do our job.”
Dunlap emphasized he doesn’t care what the Browns are saying because he doesn’t want to add any more “bulletin board material.”
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick might have taken care of that instead. When asked what Mayfield does best, he jokingly answered, “Talk.”
“Naw, he’s cool,” Kirkpatrick continued. “I like to see that out of young guys. He definitely gets in guys’ heads. That’s what this game is about. Everybody is so straight with the rules, but this is a competitive game, it’s a competitive nature just to be aggressive and things like that. He does a lot of good things, getting out of the pocket — he’s short so he’s not going to make the best throws in the pocket. So we know what we’ve got to do.”
The Bengals already have been eliminated from the playoffs, but the Browns still have a slim chance at getting in with wins in their last two games and some serious help.
Cincinnati can play the role of the spoiler, but running back Joe Mixon said it’s not about knocking Cleveland or its fans down a peg.
“I don’t really care what the (heck) they’ve got going on,” Mixon said. “If they’re high on them that’s cute. For me I’m just worried about us, I don’t care what they’ve got going on. … We’re focused on us, I don’t care what they’ve got going.”