Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, capping a brilliant 234-yard effort in the first half, hit all seven of his passes in the half's final drive and gave the Bengals a 17-10 halftime lead over the Browns. The final first half drive was capped on an 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyler Boyd with 15 seconds left Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Burrow, sifting 20 of 25, had just been rocked by defensive end Myles Garrett's second sack of the game. But with center Billy Price in for Trey Hopkins (out for the game with a concussion) and left tackle Fred Johnson in for Jonah Williams (out for the game with a neck injury), Burrow stood in the pocket and ripped a rope to Boyd masking his seventh catch of the half.
Boyd had 56 yards receiving and so did wide receiver A.J. Green on four catches. But Burrow ignited that last drive with a 27-yard pass down the right sideline to rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins frustrating Browns cornerback Denzel Ward. Burrow had come in with two completions of 20 yards down field and in the first half he had three.
With Bengals running back Joe Mixon out and Garrett on the loose, Burrow also attacked the Browns with a bevy of screens to his backs and receivers and tight end Drew Sample. Running back Giovani Bernard rushed for 21 yards on six carries and Burrow was next with four yards on three quarterback sneaks, one for the first touchdown and one for a first down late in that last drive.
Burrow made a great play when the Browns got flagged for being offsides on third-and-two on the last play of the first quarter. Burrow took advantage of the free play and hit the back shoulder of Green outmuscling cornerback Terrance Mitchell at midfield for a 22-yard gain for Burrow's second completion of 20 yards in the quarter.
Then Burrow got 25 more, this one on a screen pass to Bernard as he scampered behind Hopkins and guards Michael Jordan and Alex Redmond.
The drive ended in the red zone when the Browns blitzed out of the slot to sack Burrow and Randy Bullock's 37-yard field goal gave Cincinnati a 10-3 lead in the first four minutes of the second quarter.
Garrett couldn't get to Burrow early when he lined up opposite right tackle Bobby Hart. The biggest play on the Bengals' first drive came when Burrow connected with wide receiver Michael Thomas on a 29-yarder as Hart, along with the chipping Bernard kept Garrett at bay.
With the Bengals up, 7-0, on their third drive, Garrett beat Williams to the outside and for the second time this season he executed a sack-strip of Burrow and Cleveland had the ball at the Bengals 33.
But rookie linebacker Logan Wilson knifed past the line to drop Browns running back Kareem Hunt for a four-yard loss and on third-and-13 Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield threw his fifth straight incompletion to start the game when slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander was plastered on wide receiver Jarvis Landry down the middle and that forced a field goal that cut the Bengals' lead to 7-3.
The Bengals had a great opening drive and had a first down from the Browns 2 after Burrow completed his third third-down conversion of the drive on a quick swing pass to Boyd.
But on first down Burrow went play-action and suffered his second end-zone interception of the year when Burrow tried to hit Boyd, but the ubiquitous Ward tipped it as he hung in a zone and the guy covering Boyd, linebacker B.J. Goodson caught it.
Yet it took just two plays for the Bengals to get it back when cornerback Darius Phillips, who picked off Mayfield twice in last year's finale, did it again on Cleveland's first throw of the game. Phillips ran step for step with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., down the right sideline and when Mayfield underthrew it, Phillips made a great play when he came back for the ball and then took it 21 yards the other way to put the Bengals back at the Browns 24.
Beckham had to go to the locker room after injuring his knee failing to tackle Phillips and was done for the day.
Three plays later Burrow was sneaking it into the end zone to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead. On his second straight try from the 1, Burrow wedged it in after two quick throws to Boyd got them. One was a 14-yarder down the season and on the second Boyd drew a pass interference call on cornerback Kevin Johnson.
Mayfield completed just six of 11 passes for 86 yards in the half.