Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, on his way to three touchdown passes in his first prime-time game, swashbuckled his team back into the game with 5:55 left. But on the ensuing possession the Browns never had to throw it and used the 1-2 ground punch of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to gash the Cincinnati defense for 75 yards and a touchdown on six carries to put away the 35-30 victory.
Burrow, who hit Tyler Boyd with his 61st and last pass of the night for a touchdown, had cut the lead to 28-23 with 5:55 left on a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Thomas. But Chubb (124 yards) and Hunt (86 yards) ripped off consecutive runs of 33 and 26 yards to rip out their hearts as the Bengals' re-built defense sagged under the weight of 215 yards rushing.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield could played in a rocking chair and he did for 16 of 23 for 219 yards and a 110 passer rating.
Meanwhile, Burrow, his No. 1 overall colleague, was Houdini. Or a welterweight boxer trying to pile up points on the ropes. With wide receiver A.J. Green held to three catches on 14 targets and running back Joe Mixon stymied on 46 yards on 16 carries, he had to get creative. He had 37 completions for 316 yards, was five-for-five on fourth down and got a complimentary tweet from fellow Ohio legend LeBron James.
In the first half Browns sack ace Myles Garrett tried to cause havoc with both Bengals tackles in an effort to get his first sack of the season and he couldn't do it. So on the Bengals' first third down of the second half and backed up on their own 12, Garrett tried Fred Johnson in his first NFL start and he beat him to the outside to slap the ball out of Burrow's hand for Burrow's first career sack and strip.
Joe Jackson fell on it at the 1 and Chubb stormed in from there to give the Browns a 28-13 lead with 5:45 left in the third quarter.
It was a shame. The Bengals had just staged a stirring four-down goal line stand from their 1 on the first series of the second half. In fact, the Bengals were down, 28-13, but the officials took the touchdown off the board when they ruled that running back Nick Chubb was down on the 1 after he was dragged down from behind linebackers Josh Bynes and Germaine Pratt on a 22-yard run.
From there, they stoned Chubb on three of four snaps, including a fourth-down stop by defensive tackle Freedom Akinmoladum in his season debut. Defensive end Carl Lawson and safety Vonn Bell swarmed Chubb on first down, tackles Christian Covington and Amani Bledsoe swarmed him on second down and on third down cornerback Darius Phillips had Odell Beckham Jr. covered in the end zone.
But the Bengals could do nothing when they got the ball back, except Burrow got them off the goal line when he drew the Browns offside. Cornerback Denzel Ward was draped on a first-down slant to Green and Mixon got no room on second down before the Garrett sack and strip.
Then, try this one on for size. Burrow took them down the field and it looked running back Giovani Bernard scored a touchdown on a short inside zone run and they were all set to go for two, but he was ruled down at the 1 on the replay and the Bengals went backward.
Penetration dropped Mixon for a four-yard loss. Burrow lost nine yards when he kept a zone read. Usually reliable Tyler Boyd dropped what would have been a touchdown pass. Tight end C.J. Uzomah, who caught Burrow's first NFL touchdown pass, was called for pass interference.
Randy Bullock mercifully rescued them with a 27-yard field goal that cut the Browns' lead to 28-16 with 20 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Browns continued to pummel the Bengals in the running game, but Mayfield did them a favor when he threw an end zone interception that cornerback William Jackson III claimed for the defense's first turnover of the season with 11:22 left in the fourth quarter.
But as happened all night, something good meant something bad. Rookie end Khalid Kareem was called for going low on Mayfield and later in the drive Uzomah was carted off the field with an Achilles injury.
Burrow would not die. At this point he was getting hammered and Green and Mixon were getting penned up. So Burrow bobbed and weaved and found guys like tight end Drew Sample, Thomas and the obligatory fourth-down conversion to Boyd.
When Burrow drilled a four-yard slant for a touchdown to Thomas, the Bengals were within 28-23 with 5:55 left.