We knew coming into this one it could be tough to watch. With nothing to play for in Week 18, the Cleveland Browns kept the majority of their starters out of the game. They even went with Jeff Driskel as the starting quarterback despite being signed roughly one week ago.
Cleveland's offense struggled with Driskell running things and the backups on defense couldn't hang with Joe Mixon and the Bengals offense. They went into the half with a 24-0 deficit and things didn't get much better until late in the game.
Driskel threw two touchdown passes to David Bell to make the score more respectable but it was still a 31-14 win for the Bengals. The Browns had to be encouraged by those throws but overall, there wasn't much to take from this one.
Jake Browning had his way with the backup defenders and threw for 156 yards with three touchdowns. He was pulled in the fourth quarter for A.J. McCarron. Cincinnati's win means the AFC North had four teams with winning records, with them finishing last with a 9-8 mark.
A few Browns played well in the loss
Despite the loss, a few players stood out for Cleveland. Safety D'Anthony Bell continued to impress, especially with his acrobatic interception in the first quarter. He's been quite the find as has Ronnie Hickman, with both being pressed into action late in the year due to injuries.
Defensive end Isaiah McGuire recorded the first sack of his career when he got to Jake Browning in the third quarter and nearly had another half-sack when he and Alex Wright almost hit the quarterback at the same time. For Wright, that was his fourth game in a row with a sack. Punter Corey Bojorquez stood out as well after missing last week and pinned the Bengals deep a couple of times, including once in the third when James Proche fielded a 47-yard punt at the one-yard line.
Bell had himself a game to remember as well. The second-year wideout from Purdue had just one touchdown coming into the game and hauled in two in this one. He finished with 68 yards on four receptions.
Browns ready for the playoffs
Cleveland is set to hit the road next week and take on the AFC South winners, the Houston Texans. It will be a Week 16 re-match although this time, C.J. Stroud will be under center. The rookie missed their first meeting with a concussion and could be a problem for the Browns. Thankfully, Jim Schwartz will have all his starters back and they'll be rested and ready to get after the impressive rookie.