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Joe Burrow, Bengals drop a dud in ugly loss to rival Browns

Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals were expected to field one of the NFL's most explosive offenses in 2023. Hold that thought.

The Bengals dropped a dud Sunday in a flaccid 24-3 loss to the division rival Cleveland Browns. Burrow failed to throw for 100 yards. The Bengals failed to eclipse 200 yards. Punter Brad Robbins was the most active player in a Bengals uniform, tallying 10 punts for a whopping 409 yards.

A Cleveland defense anchored by All-Pro pass rusher Myles Garrett feasted on a Bengals offense that looked nothing like the unit that's anchored consecutive trips to the AFC championship game.

Garrett sack on fourth down seals Cincinnati's fate

For much of the game, Cleveland's offense failed to mount a counter as the Bengals remained within shouting distance through the fourth quarter. But a Myles Garrett sack of Burrow on a Bengals fourth-and-4 effort in their own territory signaled that the game was all but over.

After Cleveland extended its lead to 24-3, Burrow didn't return to the game. Backup Jake Browning finished under center with a handful of handoffs to mercifully put an end to Cincinnati's season opener.

Neither offense looked ready for Week 1 in a futile first quarter for both teams. The Bengals and Browns combined for 11 punts and a fumble in the first 13 combined possessions of the game. Only a Dustin Hopkins field goal for the Browns early in the second quarter kept the game from amounting to a scoreless tie.

A Deshaun Watson scramble in the final seconds of the first half put the first touchdown on the board as Cleveland took a 10-0 lead into the break.

At that point, the Bengals had mustered 97 yards of total offense.

They made progress to start the second half, driving to set up an Evan McPherson field goal on their first drive of the third quarter. But their first score would be their last. Their next drive ended with a missed field goal. They followed that up with a five-play drive that ended with a punt. Then came the turnover on downs on a four-play drive that lost seven yards thanks to Garrett's sack.

Not even a gift of an interception by Watson could spark an inept Cincinnati offense.

The ugly numbers

Burrow finished the day completing 14 of 31 passes for 82 yards. That adds up to 2.6 yards per attempt. All-Pro receiver Ja'Marr Chase caught five passes for 39 yards. Burrow and Chase, who have played together since leading LSU to a national championship in 2019, were not on the same page. Burrow's passes targeting his favorite receiver were frequently off the mark, forcing Chase to contort to make an effort on the ball.

Joe Mixon provided the only semblance of competence for Cincinnati's offense while tallying 56 yards on 13 carries. In the end, Cincinnati produced seven three-and-outs and a turnover on downs en route to 142 yards of total offense. The Browns countered with 350 yards of offense anchored by a 106-yard rushing day from Nick Chubb. Watson completed 16 of 29 passes for 154 yards with a touchdown and interception while adding 45 yards and a score on the ground.

Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense were inept on Sunday. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense were inept on Sunday. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) (Gregory Shamus via Getty Images)

Burrow fresh off preseason injury, record contract extension

Burrow's performance comes with added scrutiny after he signed a $275 million extension last week making him the highest-paid player in league history. He entered Sunday having missed most of training camp and the preseason with a calf strain. The rust showed, especially against a Browns defense that has given him trouble throughout his three-plus season career.

There's no reason for panic in Cincinnati. It's just Week 1, and this unit has proven itself over two seasons of deep playoff runs what its capable of. But there is reason for disappointment. And things don't get any easier in Week 2 in another divisional matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.