CLEVELAND, Ohio — When your star defensive player Myles Garrett marches into the Monday Night Halloween game dressed as the evil Vecna from the Stranger Things series, you better bring it strong.
Garrett and the rest of the Browns did just that in a 32-13 beatdown of the Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium filled with flickering orange lights, a handful of Browns in costume, a Thriller halftime show and everything these home fans have wanted to see from their team all season.
“You set the bar kind of high when you do some stuff like that,” said Garrett, who also had an elaborate Halloween display in his front yard with Joe Burrow and other QBs locked in the tentacles of the show’s shadow monster. “You make sure you don’t go sackless in a game you walk around as a Stranger Things character.”
In snapping their four-game losing streak, the Browns improved to 3-5 overall and 2-1 in the division, and breathed new life into their season heading into the bye week. They also sent the Bengals home 4-4 and 0-3 in the AFC North. The Browns beat the Bengals for the fifth straight time under Kevin Stefanski, and Burrow, who led the Bengals to the Super Bowl last season and was on a tear this year, dropped to 0-4 lifetime against the Browns.
The victory was also reminiscent of last year’s 41-16 rout of the Bengals in Cincinnati on Nov. 7.
“They’ve had our number the past couple of years,” said Burrow (25-of-35, 232 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 96.4 rating), who was sacked five times for a total of 17 in his four meetings with the Browns.
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Garrett, who lumbered into FirstEnergy Stadium in his fearsome costume, set the tone on the Bengals’ first drive when he leapt to tip a Burrow pass, and AJ Green picked it off. It marked the third straight game the Browns have intercepted Burrow on his opening drive, including last year’s 99-yard pick-six by Denzel Ward, who sat this one out with his concussion.
The offense failed to cash in when Cade York’s 53-yard field goal attempt was blocked — his second straight block including the gametying attempt at the end of the loss to the Ravens — but Garrett (1 1/2 sacks, 4 QB hits, one pass defended) stormed back out and blew up the Bengals second possession with an 8-yard sack on third down.
“That first tipped pass leading to an interception and then that sack, it felt like everyone was like, ‘The bank is open. Everyone grab something,’” Garrett said. “I was rushing to get to the passer to make a big play, but there were a lot of guys playing lights out. It was just beautiful to see.”
Burrow, who had thrown six touchdown passes in his previous two games to climb to No. 3 in the NFL with 15, acknowledged that the tip-and-pick got the Browns’ Halloween party started.
“That was really the start of a long day for us,” he said.
Of course, Burrow was working without his No. 1 receiver in 2021 Pro Bowler Ja’Marr Chase (hip), who was tied for second in the NFL with six TD catches. But the Browns, who held Joe Mixon to 27 yards rushing and the Bengals to 36 overall, were without Ward, Wyatt Teller, David Njoku and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
“We’re a better offense than what we put out there tonight, even without him,” said Burrow, who threw both of his TDs in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.
Jacoby Brissett (17-of-22, 278, two sacks, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 133.7), who had his best game of the season and outplayed the Super Bowl QB, acknowledged that Garrett’s early hellfire spread through the team.
“He’s one of those guys we feed off of,” Brissett said. “He is obviously a tone-setter for us. He’ll come up and tell you that he fed off of a lot of those other guys.”
Receiver Amari Cooper, who caught 5-of-7 targets for 131 yards, including a 53-yarder that set up Nick Chubb’s second TD run and a 4-yard TD on an end zone face that made it 25-0 with 3: 10 left in the third, matched Garrett’s intensity on his side of the ball.
“Of course,” Cooper said. “It motivates you to make plays. That’s why you pay him the big bucks.”
Garrett and his crew aimed to give Burrow and his receivers some hell after they talked trash in the offseason, even saying that cornerback Greg Newome II isn’t elite.
“Heck yeah,” said Garrett. “We definitely had this one circled. I don’t know if it was (Burrow) saying the sacks were overrated or the wide receivers talking about our DBs, but I guess they just lit a fire in us, and we’re just able to get after them a little bit different . We can’t wait to see them again (Dec. 11) in their house.”
Newsome, who tried to downplay the revenge angle during the week, admitted it was huge.
“You get disrespected, you’ve got to show up and we showed up today,” he said. “They know what we did last year and for them to talk like that, we had to shut them up again, so we did that today.”
It marked another monster game for Nick Chubb (23 for 101 yards and 2 TDs), who opened the scoring by taking a direct snap to the house for a 3-yard TD. He punctuated it with a two-point run for an 8-0 lead with 5:04 left in the half. He also scored on an 11-yard run with 8:46 to make it 32-6 after Cooper’s huge catch.
But the game was really won on the Browns’ two back-to-back scores heading into the locker room and coming back out for an 18-0 command.
Linebacker Sione Takitaki, who had arguably his best career game, strip-sacked Burrow late in the half, but Brissett gave it right back on a strip-sack of his own with 1:56 before the break. But instead of narrowing the gap, Pro Bowl kicker Evan McPherson pushed a 47-yard field goal attempt at the Dawg Pound end wide right.
Brissett took back over at his 37 with 40 seconds left, and set York up for a 55-yarder, which he nailed as time expired.
“There were basically two kicks in a row I got blocked down the middle so I was pissed off,” York said. “I just went out there pissed off and tried to hammer it, honestly. It felt pretty good.”
Brissett stormed back out after intermission and marched to the 3, where he took it in himself on the left side for the TD – the first given up by the Bengals in the second half this season.
“I thought about the Chargers game and when I threw the pick (in the end zone at the end of the 30-28 loss),” Brissett said. “I’ve been beating myself up about that a lot just because that’s been like sitting on my heart. I always told myself if I ever get that opportunity again, I’m going to make the right decision. I half made the right decision – I reached the ball out on second down, which is stupid. It was one of those where I was like, ‘Man, I have to take it.'”
But Brissett acknowledged that the back-to-back scores for the 18-0 lead with 8:57 left in the third were huge.
“We’ve always preached double-dipping,” Brissett said. “We understood how important that was. We just lined up and we were like, ‘You know what? This is what we are doing.’ It was one of those days where we imposed our will. That touchdown really was a very critical moment for us.”
It wasn’t perfect, but the Browns — who led 25-0 and 32-6 before Burrow threw two late TDs — overcame their mistakes, including an interception by Cooper on a first-quarter gadget play. He later explained that he was trying to throw the ball away under pressure and not to Michael Woods II.
“He’s coming to school with me tomorrow (laughter),” Brissett said. “That play is not in [the playbook] no more – I am just letting you know that (laughter).”
Cooper laughed at the ugly pass, which is easier to do in a victory.
“It was an abomination,” he said. “I didn’t realize how hard it was to throw it away. I didn’t try to throw it to him. I was throwing it back to the line of scrimmage, and I looked up and it was in another guy’s hands. It was terrible. I don’t think they will have me throwing any more passes (laughter).”
Cooper atoned by beating a double-team for the 53-yard diving catch, a post route that he suggested.
“I felt the need to lobby for it because of what I saw out there,” he said.
It was also a big night rookie cornerback Martin Emerson (three pass breakups) and Takitaki, who led with 13 tackles and the sack-fumble.
“(Takitaki) was unbelievable,” said Stefanski. “He was all over the field making tackles.”
The Browns kept themselves in the playoff conversation with their most dominant victory of the season, even if most people are skeptical.
“Nobody is giving us a chance, and that’s OK,” Brissett said. “It’s perfectly fine. You have to find a way to get the guys to understand, ‘Hey, it only takes one. It all starts with one.’”
Garrett never stopped believing, even during the soul-crushing four-game losing streak.
“The light was never gone,” he said. “That’s all we talked about: empty the tank, 100 percent commitment to your craft and your brother. See what we can get out of it, especially going into the bye week. We had a lot of guys buy completely into that message, and it really showed.”
After hearing boos after several home losses, Garrett loved putting on the great Halloween bash at the Stadium.
“Damn, it felt good,” he said.
The Browns will enjoy their bye this week and then get back at it Nov. 13 in Miami against the 5-3 Dolphins. If they can win one or two more of these next three games before Deshaun Watson returns on Dec. 4th with six games left, anything can happen, especially in the tightly-packed AFC North.
“We definitely told each other, ‘Listen, we have nothing next week. Literally nothing. Literally empty everything that you have,’” Brissett said. “Guys just did a great job stepping up and taking full advantage of this moment and this opportunity. Very happy for those guys, and hopefully, we carry this on.”
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