December 10, 2014

Just when you thought the Cleveland Browns couldn't be embarrassed any further, Monday night happened.

Social media exploded with videos from the stadium during the disastrous final play, including one showing a fan ripping a Browns jersey off his body, Hulk Hogan style.

Cleveland football is being shredded far and wide, and the first-place Cincinnati Bengals certainly understand the turmoil facing the intrastate foe they'll visit Sunday.

Cincinnati (9-2) has even added to it by beating the Browns (2-9) last month while holding Johnny Manziel in check. The Bengals will be dealing with Austin Davis in this matchup, though, because Josh McCown's season-ending setback added injury to Cleveland's latest humiliating defeat - with Manziel contributing the insult.

Manziel lost his starting job after again being caught in an alcohol-fueled incident months after a stint in rehab, then decided to try and lie about the timing of his latest misstep that was captured on video during Cleveland's bye week.

That was enough for coach Mike Pettine to hand the keys back to McCown, who subsequently broke his right collarbone Monday. Manziel watched in uniform from the sideline as Davis hit Travis Benjamin for a tying 42-yard touchdown and guided the Browns within a 51-yard field goal of ending a five-game losing streak.

Then, in typical Browns fashion, Travis Coons had his kick blocked and returned 64 yards by Will Hill as time expired, giving Baltimore a 33-27 victory.

"Tough one to wrap your brain around," Pettine said.

That's often been the reaction to Pettine's decisions regarding his quarterbacks. Davis will be under center this week, but Pettine left the door open for Manziel to return at any point despite his troubles.

Davis just wants to add some sort of consistency to what seems like a growing mess.

"I hate feeling unprepared for anything, especially being quarterback on an NFL football team," said Davis, who made eight starts for St. Louis as an undrafted rookie last season before signing with the Browns.

"I feel like there are so many people that are counting on you and looking at you to play well. The fact of letting people down just bothers me."

Cincinnati also has a history of disappointing fans given it hasn't won a playoff game since the 1990 season, but it seems destined to end that drought. There are a couple of complicated scenarios that could play out for the Bengals to lock up a postseason spot for the fifth straight year with a victory.

For now, they're enjoying being in the unfamiliar position of leading the AFC North by three games after beating St. Louis 31-7 last week to snap a two-game skid.

"Our goals are bigger than (just making the playoffs)," said Andy Dalton, who threw for three touchdowns against the Rams. "The nice thing is that we've put ourselves in position where we can start handling that stuff as the season goes along. But our focus is getting this win right now, and that will set us up better for the end of the season."

Jeremy Hill had his best game of the season with 86 yards rushing, and A.J. Green caught a pair of TD passes to help Cincinnati in its quest to earn a first-round bye.

The Bengals can clinch the North by beating Pittsburgh on Dec. 13 at home.

"That's our first goal at the beginning of every season, to win the AFC North," Hill said. "So we're putting ourselves in position to do that first, and putting ourselves in position to be where we want to be in the playoffs."

Dalton hopes Tyler Eifert, who leads the NFL with 12 touchdown catches, will be able to play in this contest. Eifert suffered a stinger in his neck in last week's win and didn't practice Wednesday.

Eifert caught all three of Dalton's TD passes in a 31-10 win over the Browns on Nov. 5. The Bengals defense gave up just 213 total yards - the fewest it's allowed this season - while sacking Manziel three times.

"It really doesn't matter who the (Browns') quarterback is because at the end of the day, we have to play our (type of) football game," said defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who sacked Manziel twice and has 8 1/2 this season. "If Johnny's not playing, it's a lot less running I have to do."

Hill ran for 148 yards and two touchdowns as Cincinnati won 30-0 in its visit to Cleveland last season.

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