CINCINNATI (AP) — The previous time the Bengals tried to stop Baker Mayfield, he set a Browns rookie record with four touchdown passes in little more than half a game. He also gave a cold shoulder to his former head coach while leaving the field.
The Bengals are looking for anything positive at the end of another bad season. Containing Mayfield on Sunday would qualify.
Cincinnati (6-8) has been eliminated from playoff contention for the third season in a row. It’s the intrastate rival Browns (6-7-1) who are barely still in contention with two games left, emerging from their historically bad run of losses as their rookie quarterback grows up a little more each week — and builds a reputation, too.
Asked what Mayfield does best, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick had an immediate answer.
“Talk,” Kirkpatrick said Wednesday.
“Naw, he’s cool,” the cornerback added. “I like to see that out of young guys. He definitely gets in guys’ heads. That’s what this game is about.”
He sure got into the Bengals’ heads on Nov. 25.
Mayfield led the Browns to touchdowns on their first four chances, including a 96-yard drive. He was barely touched while going 17 of 22 for 245 yards in the first half, when the Browns piled up 296 yards.
Up 35-7 early in the second half, the Browns essentially ran out the clock. Mayfield threw only four passes in the second half, one of them for a touchdown, as Cleveland finished off a 35-20 win .
It was the Bengals’ second game since coach Marvin Lewis fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and assumed the role. The defense has been better lately against lesser opponents. The Bengals ended a five-game losing streak Sunday with a 30-16 win over the Raiders , who were missing both starting guards.
The defense finally looked more like Lewis had hoped.
“It hasn’t been easy,” said rookie defensive end Sam Hubbard, who had two sacks on Sunday. “We’ve been trying to address a lot of issues in practice.”
It’s difficult to quantify how much of an effect Hue Jackson’s had on the defense. The Browns fired him as head coach after Cleveland got only two wins in the first eight games. Lewis quickly hired his close friend as a special assistant on defense, Jackson’s third stint on Lewis’ staff.
Jackson helps create the defensive game plan and is on the sideline during games, offering Lewis advice when needed. He also talks to players on the sideline about adjustments that need to be made.
Jackson will be a focal point on the sideline Sunday in Cleveland, where he won only three games in two-plus seasons. He’s kept a low profile in Cincinnati not only with the media but also with players, trying to be careful not to infringe upon the other assistant coaches’ areas.
He was in the spotlight when the Browns visited last month. Safety Damarious Randall intercepted a pass by the Bengals sideline and handed the ball to Jackson , who patted him on the helmet. After the game, Jackson sought out Mayfield, but the rookie didn’t want to talk.
Jackson’s decision to join an AFC North rival and plot to beat the Browns didn’t go over well with some of his former players. His current ones don’t want to get into it.
“I don’t care about that,” Kirkpatrick said. “He was their coach. Their might have been something personal. I don’t know. I’m not going to get into it.
“You’ll have to ask Hue.”
Jackson? He’s not talking.
Receiver Tyler Boyd topped 1,000 yards in the win over the Raiders, but hurt his right knee late in the first half and didn’t return. He was held out of practice Wednesday, an indication he’s unlikely to play in Cleveland. Linebacker Jordan Evans (ankle) also missed practice.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict returned to practice on a limited basis after missing the past two games with a concussion. Right tackle Cordy Glenn (back), running back Joe Mixon (wrist) and receiver John Ross (knee) also were limited.