CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 29: Head coach Zac Taylor celebrates with Carl Lawson #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Bengals cap ‘unacceptable’ season with win over Browns: 5 takeaways from season finale

The Bengals closed a disappointing season with a 33-23 win over the Cleveland Browns in the “Battle of Ohio” rivalry game at Paul Brown Stadium.

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Dalton remains under contract through 2020, but with the team holding the first pick in the draft, the organization might be ready to move on from the ninth-year veteran who got benched for three games midseason amid an 0-11 start.

Here are five takeaways from the win:

1. Dalton’s potential swan song

Dalton didn’t have his best day, as he passed for just 190 yards and had one interception, but he did throw a touchdown and run for another one as the Bengals capitalized on three red-zone chances in the first half to build a lead they wouldn’t lose. He connected with C.J. Uzomah on a 15-yard strike to tie the game at 7 and then added a five-yard scramble to help extend a lead to 20-7 with 10:06 left in the second quarter.

The game ended with Dalton kneeling twice after B.W. Webb intercepted Baker Mayfield with 59 seconds left.

“I mean, I wasn’t going through my whole career — not a life-flashing moment,” Dalton said with a laugh. “I get that it could have been the last snaps I’ve played my career in a Cincinnati Bengals uniform. What better way to do it, if it is the case. Again, guys, I don’t know. I have no idea what’s going to happen. If it is, you always want to end a game by taking a knee.”

If this is the end of his career in Cincinnati, Dalton will go out as the organization’s all-time leader in career touchdowns (204) and pass completions (2,757). He passed Ken Anderson in both categories during a Week 13 win over the Jets, his first game back following a three-game stint on the bench while the Bengals gave rookie fourth-round pick Ryan Finley a look. Dalton led the Bengals to five straight playoff appearances from 2011 to 2015 to open his career.

2. Avoiding an all-time low

The win Sunday kept the 2019 Bengals from becoming the absolute worst in franchise history. Instead, they match the 2002 team’s 2-14 finish and share the worst record. This year’s group already set a new low for longest losing streak in a season after dropping the first 11 games. No other team had lost more than 10 in a row.

First-year coach Zac Taylor said 2-14 is “unacceptable” but it was good for the team’s psyche to end on a win and head into the offseason with some momentum. Cincinnati also ended a streak of 10 straight AFC North division losses.

“All we can control is what’s right in front of us, and today, this was what was right in front of us, and we did it,” Taylor said. “I’m proud of the way the guys responded, and we just (want to) use all the momentum we can gain from that, move on to tomorrow and on to the offseason.”

3. Milestones reached

Joe Mixon took the spotlight with yet another career performance as he ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns — his fourth 100-yard rushing performance in five games.

With his third carry, a 41-yard run on the first drive, Mixon crossed 1,000 yards for the second straight season. He needed 25 yards coming into the game and finished with 1,137 yards and five touchdowns.

Mixon was one of three players to reach 1,000-yard milestones Sunday, as Tyler Boyd and Browns receiver Odell Beckham topped that mark in receiving yards.

Boyd had 59 yards on seven touchdowns to end the season with 1,046 yards receiving, as he and Mixon became only the second duo in Bengals history to go for 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in back-to-back years since Chad Johnson and Rudi Johnson did it three times in a row from 2004 to 2006.

“It means a lot,” Mixon said. “A guy like T.B., having him, he’s a dog and I know what he’s going to bring each and every Sunday and he’s going to have that mentality like, ‘Let’s go out there and go to work.’ He had that mindset all year and even though we didn’t have a lot of wins to show for it, you can’t take that away from him. T.B. is a dog and I love playing with him, so we just gotta keep on building.”

Beckham finished with 1,035 yards receiving for the season after adding 81 yards on three catches Sunday, including a difficult 20-yard grab for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone.

4. Complete game

The offense got on a roll quickly, carrying momentum from last week when the Bengals scored four touchdowns in the second half at Miami, but the defense and special teams came up big in the second half to make sure the lead stuck. Taylor called it the team’s most complete game of the season.

Cincinnati’s edge rushers especially proved to be disruptive, as they got to Mayfield for six sacks, and pressure helped force Mayfield into three interceptions, including two by Darius Phillips. Carlos Dunlap had 2.5 sacks to finish the season with a team-high nine after a slow start, and Phillips finished with a team-high four interceptions despite playing just six games on defense. NFL rushing leader Nick Chubb managed just 41 yards on 13 carries.

Randy Bullock added two field goals, including a 46-yarder that made it a two-score game with 1:55 left before Webb’s interception sealed it, and an offense that hadn’t scored more than two touchdowns in any of the first 14 games finished with four of them for a second straight game to end the year.

“We were getting them into third-and-long, we stopped the run pretty good and the offense controlled the clock,” Dunlap said. “It was a collective effort.”

5. Uncertainty for many

Dalton isn’t the only one facing an uncertain future. Reports out of Cleveland had said Browns coach Freddie Kitchens could save his job with a win Sunday, but the loss could mean he’s one-and-done after a 6-10 finish, which Mayfield called “very frustrating.” The Browns missed the playoffs despite a roster full of talent like Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Myles Garrett, and Mayfield took a step back from his rookie season as he finished with 20 interceptions this year.

The Bengals have players like A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert whose contracts are ending, and it’s unclear whether Taylor and the front office will make any changes to the staff, which was put together late in the offseason after Taylor was hired in February.

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