4 Downs: Who cares? A meaningless game with little to take away vs. Bengals

The Cleveland Browns have ended their 2023 regular season with a record of 11-6. Despite solid performances by wide receiver David Bell and defensive end Alex Wright, the Browns’ backups fell to the Cincinnati Bengals by a score of 14-31 as they now prepare for the Houston Texans next week.

The Bengals did not rest their starters as running back Joe Mixon had his best game in two years against this reserve unit. Jake Browning was also able to find success through the air, ending the game with 156 yards and three touchdowns passing.

Overall, the game is about what you would expect for a team resting all of their starters with their spot in the playoffs already locked down. The real test lies ahead as the Browns get set to travel to Houston to take on the Texans in the first round of the playoffs.

And for the last time this regular season, here is your 4 Downs from this meaningless Week 18 loss to the Bengals.

1st Down: WR will once again be a priority this offseason

Browns Alex Wright Texans Bengals
Browns Alex Wright Texans Bengals

2nd Downs: Alex Wright, 2024 starting defensive end opposite Myles Garrett

Browns Alex Wright Texans Bengals
(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

A third round pick in the 2022 NFL draft, Alex Wright was thrust into the starting lineup in Week 3 of his rookie season after entering the NFL from a Group of Five program at UAB. His rookie season did not go as planned as it was likely too much too early for him.

However, taking a step back into a rotational role, Wright has burst onto the scenes for the Browns this season. Wright has racked up four sacks over his last four games, giving him five now in his sophomore campaign. He is also among the best run defenders on the team as well.

As the Browns prepare for Za’Darius Smith to enter free agency, they now have some assurance that the next man up is already in the building. If Smith seeks out the highest bidder on the open market and departs Cleveland, Wright is your starting defensive end opposite of Myles Garrett.

The Browns needed a leap from him, and they got it.

3rd Down: Joe Mixon's incentives and the art of making the Bengals feel better about themselves

Browns Alex Wright Texans Bengals
Browns Alex Wright Texans Bengals

4th Down: Houston, we have a problem

Browns Alex Wright Texans Bengals
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

We’re onto Houston.

After the Jacksonville Jaguars choked away five of their last six games and the AFC South title, it is C.J. Stroud and the Texans who win the division and will host the Browns next weekend. It will be a bittersweet moment for Ohioans who love Stroud and also love the Browns as Jim Schwartz looks to get the best of the rookie.

The Browns have dismantled Houston once this year already, but that was with Case Keenum under center. The second act is sure to be a tougher ask of the Cleveland defense.

Can Flacco and Cooper connect for another historic day on the same defense they erupted on just three weeks ago? The regular season is over and the real football begins.

Extra Point: So uh, P.J. Walker is your backup quarterback.

Browns Alex Wright Texans Bengals
Browns Alex Wright Texans Bengals

[lawrence-auto-related count=5 category=1362]

Story originally appeared on Browns Wire