CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals scored a franchise-record 31 points in the second quarter and snapped a two-game losing streak with a 41-20 win against the Browns on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals (7-4) returned a fumble and a blocked punt for touchdowns as they rallied from a 13-0 deficit against the Browns (4-6) and maintained control of the AFC North division lead. Cincinnati managed just 108 yards offense and three first downs in the first half but broke the franchise record for most points scored in any quarter on the strength of its defense and special teams.
The Bengals found themselves in a double-digit deficit for the third straight game late in the first quarter. Nearly everything that could have gone wrong for the Bengals in the first 14 minutes of the game did go wrong.
"I guess we will continue to major in thrilling at this point," said Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis. "We showed great resilience, perseverance and the ability to come back today. I thought the defense did a great job of getting some turnovers and getting us jump-started on offense."
Linebacker James Harrison and the Cincinnati defense changed the momentum of the game and the AFC North division race with one play and the most dominating quarter of football in franchise history.
The Bengals ended the game with 224 yards, while Cleveland managed 330 yards but turned the ball over four times.
Harrison started Cincinnati's rally with an interception of quarterback Jason Campbell off a tipped pass in the final minute of the first quarter. Harrison returned the interception 21 yards, bulling his way into the end zone for an apparent touchdown but the score was negated by a penalty. Quarterback Andy Dalton threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jermaine Gresham on the first play of the second quarter.
"As soon as I got the ball in my hand all I was thinking of was 'We've got to score.' Our offense was a little sluggish at the time and we felt like we needed something to get us turned around," said Harrison. "We had that opportunity. I felt like I wasn't going to be stopped. I was stopped but the offense came out and did their job."
Cincinnati rookie safety Shawn Williams deflected a punt by Spencer Lanning on the Browns' next possession, giving the Bengals a first down at Cleveland's 38. Dalton got his second touchdown pass of the game on a 6-yard throw to Mohamed Sanu with 11:49 left in the half. The Bengals upped the lead to 21-13 when Tony Dye returned a blocked punt by rookie Jayson DiManche 24 yards for his first career touchdown. Dye was signed off of the practice squad on Saturday and was playing in his first NFL game.
"It was a clean operation," said Lanning. "My head is down as soon as I catch the ball. I'm not sure what happens up front. I believe in our guys. It just wasn't good enough today."
What the Browns said
"I felt like we were doing a good job. I was excited. One thing led to another and the next thing you know we're down big. Sometimes you need to be able to stop the bleeding. You need to make a play to stop momentum and they were doing a very good job on special teams. They created turnovers." - Cornerback Joe Haden.
What the Bengals said
"Any turnover is a momentum-shifter. The defense was getting turnovers and was playing fast and physical. I think that we set the tone." - Linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
What we learned about the Browns
1. Beating Baltimore had the Browns feeling positive about their prospects for the remainder of the season. A win Sunday would have drawn them to .500 on the season and given them a 3-1 AFC North division record. Instead, the loss to the Bengals drops Cleveland to 4-6 and in a three-way tie for second place with Baltimore and Pittsburgh. They are also one of seven teams within a game of the New York Jets, who currently hold the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC with a 5-5 record. It's going to be a muddled mess the final six weeks of the season for that wild-card playoff spot.
2. The defense continues to play at a high level. The Browns held Cincinnati to a season-low 224 yards of offense, including limiting wide receiver A.J. Green to seven yards on two receptions. Green came into Sunday with five straight 100-yard receiving games. It's an aggressive group starting with defensive lineman Phil Taylor, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and cornerback Joe Haden. The only other times the Bengals failed to gain at least 340 yards were against Green Bay (296) in Week 3 and at Cleveland (266) in Week 4.
What we learned about the Bengals
1. Outside linebacker James Harrison hasn't been heard from much this season since signing as a free agent. Harrison's impact is limited mainly because he doesn't play in Cincinnati's nickel packages, but he made noise Sunday and showed he can still be an asset. He made four tackles and came up with the interception late in the first quarter that stopped Cleveland's momentum and sent it the Bengals' way. He's been a positive influence in the linebacker room, especially with second-year linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who plays with a similar aggressiveness and edge.
2. No one can deny the Bengals' resiliency. For the third game in a row they fell behind by double digits only to rally. They lost in overtime at Miami and at Baltimore after rallying from deficits of 17-3 and 17-0 in the second half. They were down 13-0 in the first quarter as quarterback Andy Dalton and the offense produced just 30 yards and no first downs while turning the ball over twice, leading to 10 Cleveland points. The boos were cascading throughout Paul Brown Stadium before Harrison's interception. Dalton shook off the bad quarter and threw two perfectly placed passes for touchdowns - a 25-yarder to tight end Jermaine Gresham and a 6-yarder to Mohamed Sanu - that put Cincinnati ahead for good, 14-13.