CINCINNATI (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals beat AFC power Kansas City last Sunday for the third time in 11 months.
Now the surging Bengals turn their attention to trying to end a five-game skid against division rival Cleveland.
The Bengals (8-4) haven't been able to beat the Browns (5-7) lately, losing the Battle of Ohio five times in a row. Cincinnati has lost eight of nine in the series dating to 2018.
The last outing was an embarrassment for the Bengals, a 32-13 rout in Cleveland on Halloween. The AFC North rivals meet again Sunday in Cincinnati.
“We kind of owe these guys,” Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard said.
That Browns squad that walloped Cincinnati was led by backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, now residing on the bench in favor of Deshaun Watson, Cleveland's $230 million man who was suspended for the first 11 games over sexual misconduct allegations.
The Bengals have won four in a row since the Browns loss. Star receiver Ja'Marr Chase is back in action after missing the earlier Browns game and three more with a hairline hip fracture. Quarterback Joe Burrow is trailing only Patrick Mahomes in passing yards after besting the Chiefs star last Sunday.
“They’re really on fire right now,” said the Browns' Nick Chubb, who rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the Oct. 31 win over Cincinnati.
“It’s a new game. It’s a new week," Chubb said. “We can’t go on what we did in the past. We have to look at it as today and right now.”
The Browns beat the Bengals twice in 2021, a season that saw Cincinnati advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years. (The Bengals had already clinched the division and rested Burrow and other starters in their 21-16 loss on Jan. 9.)
Then came the night of horrors for the Bengals this fall, when Burrow was frustrated by Myles Garrett and the Cleveland defense.
STILL THE SAME
Hubbard doesn't expect to see a much different offensive game plan by the Browns with Watson running the show.
“I think it might be a little bit more of a quarterback run threat, but really, they’ve got the best rushing attack in the league, great offensive line,” he said. “I don’t think that they’re going to radically change what they do and put it all on Deshaun’s hands. They’re going to rely on Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and those great backs and good receivers and try to make it easy on him.”
Watson returned last week after a suspension imposed because of accusations by more than two dozen women that he sexually harassed or assaulted them during massage therapy sessions. He wasn't much of a factor in the 27-14 win that saw the Browns get two defensive touchdowns and rush for 174 yards.
Joe Mixon is back at practice as he continues to recover from a concussion suffered Nov. 20. The running back has missed two games since then. Samaje Perine has been an effective stand-in, rushing for a season-high 106 yards last week against the Chiefs.
Browns tight David Njoku followed up making the catch of his career with an equally impressive postgame snag.
Njoku missed last week with a knee injury sustained one play before his stunning, one-handed grab in the final seconds of regulation on Nov. 27, which forced overtime and helped the Browns beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Njoku’s leaping, left-handed catch has been the high point of the season for the 26-year-old, who has 41 catches for 464 yards and two TDs.
Not long after his stellar catch, Njoku boldly snared an autographed jersey from Tom Brady.
“I told him on the field, ‘Listen, dawg, you’re my idol, but I’m not leaving this field until I get this jersey,’ and he laughed it off,” said Njoku, who had no previous relationship with the megastar QB. “He said, ‘I promise you I’ll mail you one.’ And he did, so I was happy.”
POINT OF RETURN
Donovan Peoples-Jones was unaware his long punt return also ended a lengthy drought.
The Browns wide receiver, who has steadily improved as a return specialist, took a punt back 76 yards for a touchdown last week at Houston. It was just the second TD return in the league this season, and the first for Cleveland since Travis Benjamin’s 78-yarder in 2015.
“That’s a great feeling,” said Peoples-Jones, who stumbled but managed to stay on his feet during the return. “That’s been something that I wanted to do ever since I was here and definitely been one of my goals.”
The score earned him AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Berea, Ohio, contributed to this report.
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