The Cincinnati Bengals have fallen into a pattern they can't seem to shake. They suffered another close loss under Zac Taylor on Sunday, falling 37-34 to the Cleveland Browns.
Lou Anarumo's defense was toasted for five touchdowns through the air, while Taylor's record in one-score games fell to 1-12-1. The Bengals are scrambling for answers heading into the midway point of the season.
Here's a three-down look of the divisional battle.
First Down: Baker Cooks Up a Masterpiece
It took Baker Mayfield a few passes to get settled. Once he did, he never looked back. Mayfield set the Browns' record for consecutive completions (21) and finished 22-of-28 for 297 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.
He did all of that without Odell Beckham Jr. who injured his knee on Mayfield's first pass of the game. That play was a Darius Phillips interception. It was one of the only times the Bengals were able to slow down the Browns' offense.
Mayfield didn't have Austin Hooper's services but he called on David Njoku and the rookie Harrison Bryant to be his go-to weapons in the middle of the field. The tight end duo combined for six catches, 76 yards and three touchdowns. Bryant was a game-changer against the soft middle of the Bengals defense all afternoon. Mayfield went 6-of-7 for 48 yards and two touchdowns when targeting the middle of the field according to NextGen Stats.
He didn't let the interception on his first throw stop him from targeting Phillips with the game on the line. He was 2-of-2 for 54 yards and the game-winning score when targeting the third-year cornerback on the final drive. Mayfield sealed the Bengals fate with a pinpoint dagger to Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Second Down: Injury Bug Keeps Biting
The Bengals' injury ward grew a lot bigger on Sunday as Joe Burrow had an offensive line made up of backups by the end of the afternoon. Center Trey Hopkins (concussion), left tackle Jonah Williams (neck), and right tackle Bobby Hart were all knocked out of action.
The Bengals had been enjoying a string of consistent line groupings over the past month. Now that's in jeopardy as we await the status of all three starters. Tee Higgins also suffered an undisclosed injury towards the end of the game, joining Joe Mixon as a banged-up skill player. Higgins did return to the game.
The Bengals sorely missed William Jackson III, who is still recovering from a concussion of his own.
Things don't get any easier for the battered Bengals, who take on the 5-1 Titans at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 1.
Third down: Burow and Taylor Meld for Peak Outing
Sunday was arguably Taylor's best performance as a play-caller with the Bengals. Anticipating the Browns' desire to bring pressure, Taylor dialed up his full blitz beater package with inventive screens and a quick passing game. Taylor featured Drew Sample and Giovani Bernard on those designs all afternoon to keep the Browns off balance.
It was the perfect recipe for Burrow, who turned in his best performance as a Bengal. The rookie went 35-of-47 for 406 yards, four total touchdowns and one interception. Burrow is the first rookie in franchise history to pass for 400-plus yards in a single game.
Only five other Bengals quarterbacks have poured it on like that and the deep ball was a big reason for the explosion. Burrow was 3-of-6 for 78 yards on passes 20-plus yards downfield according to NextGen Stats. He had two completions all year on those throws coming into the game.
Burrow made it known who his favorite weapons are on Sunday, targeting A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd 13 times each. They combined for 183 yards on 18 catches, acting as the security blanket for Burrow. Burrow went Green's way on a number of quick slants and comeback routes all afternoon. Taylor has gotten a feel for what Green can still do well and he's maximizing it.
Burrow and Taylor were one step ahead of the Browns' defense all game long but those inventive designs weren't enough to seal the deal against Cleveland.
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