Josh McCown did not play in the game in Cincinnati because rib and shoulder injuries he suffered in the previous two games are too severe.
Johnny Manziel started and played well in the first half. He engineered a 92-drive at the end of the second quarter and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to rookie running back Duke Johnson with 19 seconds left in the second quarter to cut the Bengals' lead to 14-10 at intermission.
Partly because the Bengals kept him bottled up in the pocket and partly because the Browns' coaches didn't want him running around as much in the final 30 minutes, Manziel was just four of 15 for 40 yards in the second half. He was sacked three times in the fourth quarter.
"We hurt ourselves in the second half," Manziel said. "We didn't do enough. It's a game of little things and we didn't do the little things in the second half. We didn't get a first down, and instead had fourth-and-inches. We had some momentum coming in to the half, so we really needed that."
The Browns do not play again until they face the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Nov. 15. McCown could be healthy enough by then to start. Head coach Mike Pettine says he does not yet know which quarterback will get the ball in Pittsburgh.
"We'll talk about that early next week," Pettine said on Friday. "I think given the three games in 12 days and not having had a break yet this year we're all going to hit the pause button and get away for a little bit. I already met with the coordinators this morning. They have a list of things that we are going to come back and meet on. When Flip (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) and I get together that will be one of them."
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said the key to turning a close game into a lopsided one was containing Manziel in the second half. The Steelers have more than a week to either copy what the Bengals did or form their own plan of containing Manziel just in case Manziel is the starter.
REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS
--PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus. Johnny Manziel did the best he could considering what he was up against. He was working on a short week, was without wide receivers Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins because both are dealing with concussions and it was just his fourth NFL start. Manziel was effective moving out of the pocket and throwing on the run in the first half while completing 11 of 18 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, but he was just 4 of 15 for 40 yards throwing from the pocket in the second half. He will have difficulty being a success if he is consistently prohibited from leaving the pocket.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: D. The Browns were within striking distance of the Bengals at halftime, 14-10, because they had a semblance of a running game in the first two quarters even though their total was a modest 14 carries for 53 yards. In the second half, though, they attempted only one planned carry and that resulted in a four-yard loss by Isaiah Crowell. The Browns had no rhythm because they couldn't run successfully. Rookie Duke Johnson netted zero yards on three carries. The Browns have no chance if they remain one-dimensional.
--PASS DEFENSE: C-minus. the Browns were undermanned in the secondary because left cornerback Joe Haden and strong safety Donte Whitner were out with concussions. Despite that challenge, they did a decent job covering the Bengals wide receivers, but they had no answer for tight end Tyler Eifert. Eifert caught a career high three touchdown passes. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton never had to force the ball. He completed 21 of 27 passes for 234 yards while posting a 139.8 passer rating. The Browns have now yielded 18 touchdown passes in nine games.
--RUN DEFENSE: D-plus. The Browns had the last-ranked run defense going into the game and will likely retain that dubious title after giving up 152 yards on the ground to the Bengals. The Browns are getting better at not giving up chunk yardage; the Bengals' longest run by a running back was 13 yards each by Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill. The killer play was a 25-yard end around for a touchdown by Mohamed Sanu. The touchdown opened up a 24-10 lead early in the fourth quarter and put the game away.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Marlon Moore blocked a punt in the fourth quarter but by then the outcome had already been decided. Kickoff returner Justin Gilbert made a poor decision by returning a kick five yards deep in the end zone when he was stopped at the Browns 8-yard line, but the Browns still converted the drive into a touchdown. Coverage teams were excellent. Adam Jones' only kick return netted just 13 yards and Brandon Tate had four yards on two punt returns.
--COACHING: C-minus. The Browns were built to be carried by the defense this year and it just isn't happening. Defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil has not found a way to stop the bleeding, especially in the second half. The Browns have given up 81 points in the fourth quarter this season after giving up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to the Bengals. John DeFilippo shows signs of being a first-year offensive coordinator when he abandons the run as quickly as he did in Cincinnati. The Bengals lead was 17-10 after three quarters yet he called only one running play in the third quarter.