For all the talk about how Joe Burrow’s contract extension would relieve some stress going into the start of the season, it didn’t change how prepared he was for the opener.
The day after the Burrow signed his record deal, he and the Cincinnati Bengals came out flat in a 24-3 loss at Cleveland in the 100th “Battle of Ohio” game Sunday. The Bengals have not won in Cleveland in Zac Taylor’s five seasons as head coach.
Burrow threw for just 82 yards in a performance that looked just as sloppy as last year’s opener against Pittsburgh when he accounted for five turnovers. He didn’t have any miscues Sunday but his missed training camp due to a right calf strain showed in the form of inaccurate passes, highlighted by eight targets to Tee Higgins that amounted to no catches. Rainy conditions also played a factor, as Burrow completed just 45.2 of his passes.
Backup quarterback Jake Browning entered with 5:15 left in the game and accounted for a third straight three-and-out before the Browns took over and ran out the clock.
Cleveland took a 10-0 lead into halftime after Deshaun Watson ran in a 13-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left in the second quarter.
Burrow completed just 6 of 14 passes for 36 yards in the first half, marking the fewest yards in a half he’s thrown for in his career, and the Bengals punted seven times while getting shut out in the first half for just the fourth time in games Burrow has started.
The defense created turnovers twice, including a fumble forced by Germaine Pratt and recovered by Chidobe Awuzie in the first quarter and a Dax Hill interception of Deshaun Watson in the third quarter. However, the Bengals got no points out of those opportunities to swing the momentum. Cincinnati didn’t even get a first down after the fumble, and Evan McPherson missed a 51-yard field goal after the interception.
Nick Chubb and the Browns’ running game caused problems for the Bengals, as Chubb rushed for 106 yards and Watson added 45 yards on five carries. Watson added 154 yards in the air.
Cleveland’s decision to upgrade its kicker paid off as Dustin Hopkins made all three of his field goal attempts, including two for more than 40 yards.
The Browns sealed the win with about 10 minutes left when Myles Garrett sacked Burrow for the second time after the Bengals went to desperation mode in kick-starting the offense in a fourth down at their own 31-yard line. The 13-yard loss set up Watson’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Harrison Bryant to account for the final score, with a two-point conversion tacked on for good measure.
Cincinnati punted its next drive and again on the final possession led by Browning.