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Cleveland Browns RB Trent Richardson flips into the end zone at the end of a touchdown run in the first half of Sunday’s NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati. The Browns came up short in the Battle of Ohio, losing 34-27.

Bengals win, but Browns’ rookies make huge strides

Associated Press


Brandon Weeden was on target. Trent Richardson was hard to catch. The Cleveland Browns’ rookie playmakers had big games the second time around.

Still wasn’t enough to change the outcome of Ohio’s one-sided football rivalry.

Adam “Pacman” Jones returned Cleveland’s first punt 81 yards for a touchdown, and Andy Dalton matched his career high with three touchdown passes, leading the Cincinnati Bengals to a 34-27 victory on Sunday.

The Bengals (1-1) have won 13 of the past 16 against the Browns (0-2), who got breakout performances from their rookie quarterback and running back but still couldn’t get a win.

“We gave up some big plays, and in the end that was the difference,” coach Pat Shurmur said.

Jones put the Bengals ahead to stay with his fifth career punt return for a touchdown. Dalton threw three TD passes for the second time in his career, including a short throw that Andrew Hawkins turned into a 50-yard score in the fourth quarter.

Weeden rebounded from one of the worst debuts in NFL history — four interceptions against the Eagles and a 5.1 passer rating — by throwing for two touchdowns and 322 yards, the most by a Browns rookie quarterback.

“We’re getting there,” Weeden said. “The running game definitely takes a lot of pressure off of me. It helps when you run the ball.”

Trent Richardson became the first Browns rookie to run for 100 yards and score on a run and a pass.

“I had a big stat day and it was a much better game for me,” said Richardson, who had knee surgery on Aug. 9 that wiped out most of his training camp. “I wouldn’t call it a complete game. It’s coming along. We did a good job, but I think we can be even better.”

The rookies’ emergence wasn’t enough to stop Cleveland from falling to 0-2 for the fifth time in the past seven seasons. Cincinnati improved to 42-36 in the 44-year series.

The Browns had linebacker Scott Fujita back after his three-game bounty suspension was overturned on appeal. Cleveland missed top cornerback Joe Haden, who served the first week of his four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Cornerback Sheldon Brown (shoulder) also was out of the lineup.

Dalton took advantage of the depleted secondary by completing 24 of 31 for 318 yards with six sacks and an interception.

“They ran a pretty vanilla offense,” said linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who had a career-high three sacks. “Dalton was able to escape and get away from the pressure.”

The Bengals’ defense got shredded during a 44-13 loss in Baltimore on Monday night that matched the most lopsided opening defeat in franchise history. They let Weeden get some confidence and Richardson slip through their fingers, keeping it close.

Weeden completed 26 of 37 with no interceptions, two sacks and a passer rating of 114.9. Richardson carried 19 times for 109 yards, the first Browns rookie to top 100 yards since Lee Suggs ran for 187 against Cincinnati in 2003.

Phil Dawson’s 25-yard field goal with 20 seconds left cut the lead to 34-27, but receiver A.J. Green recovered the onside kick to seal it.

Jones put Cincinnati ahead to stay by slipping away from three Browns and avoiding two others during his fifth career TD off a punt return.

Weeden settled down with quick, short throws in the second quarter, when he completed 5 of 7 passes. Richardson, the third overall pick, ran 32 yards for Cleveland’s first touchdown on offense this season.

Dalton sailed a pass that got tipped to Jackson at midfield late in the third quarter. Weeden threw a short pass to Richardson, who slipped through several tackles on his way to a 23-yard touchdown that cut it to 24-17.

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