CLEVELAND — Andy Dalton threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first half and Cincinnati’s offense found the perfect opponent to work out some early season struggles and the Bengals rolled to a 31-7 win on Sunday over the overmatched Cleveland Browns.
Dalton only missed on one throw in the first half, going 17 of 18 for 215 yards as the Bengals (1-3) built a 21-0 lead.
He connected with A.J. Green, Tyler Croft and Giovani Bernard while dissecting the young Browns (0-4), who were again plagued by mistakes and were down three defensive starters.
Dalton, who came in as the NFL’s 30th-ranked QB, finished 25 of 30 for 286 yards. His second TD to Croft in the third quarter made it 31-0, and sent even some of the most die-hard Browns fans toward the FirstEnergy Stadium exits.
The Browns avoided a shutout with 1:54 left.
This was the breakthrough the Bengals were looking for after a sluggish start, which included coach Marvin Lewis firing offensive coordinator Ken Zampese after the offense failed to score a TD in its first two games. But after a solid performance last week with Bill Lazor calling plays in an overtime loss at Green Bay, the Bengals broke free against the Browns.
Cleveland fell to 1-19 in two seasons under coach Hue Jackson, who has been handed the league’s youngest roster and is trying to break in rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer without many weapons.
The Browns are hurting themselves with unforced errors, but they’re also regressing since a 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh in Week 1.
With hard-hitting linebacker Vontaze Burfict back from a three-game suspension, Cincinnati’s defense also got to flex its muscles. Burfict made his presence known with his typical hits and he was also flagged for roughing Kizer in the fourth quarter.
The Browns were again without top pick Myles Garrett. The rookie pass rusher returned to practice Thursday and didn’t report any problems, but the Browns are being cautious and will delay his regular-season debut at least one more week. They were also missing starting outside linebacker Jamie Collins (concussion) and massive tackle Danny Shelton (calf).
Dalton dominated the rest of Cleveland’s defense.
Already up by two TDs, the Bengals got the ball back with 1:40 left in the first half and appeared content to play it safe and maybe get into field-goal position.
But the Browns blitzed and Dalton alertly dumped the ball into the right flat to the speedy Bernard. With a convoy of blockers in front of him, Bernard streaked untouched to the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown.
Later in the quarter, Cleveland was threatening to score, but disappointing wide receiver Kenny Britt let a pass go through his hands, off his shoulder pads and into the hands of Cincinnati’s Clayton Fejedelam for an interception.
Dalton took it from there, completing six straight passes before threading his first scoring strike to Kroft, who filled in for the injured Tyler Eifert.
Since winning in Cincinnati on Nov. 6, 2014 to improve to 6-3, the Browns are 4-38.
The Browns remain the only team in the league not to lead at any point through four games. They had an early chance after Emmanuel Ogbah’s strip sack of Dalton on Cincinnati’s first possession.
But Cleveland didn’t gain a yard in three plays and rookie Zane Gonzalez missed a 48-yard field goal.
Adam “Pacman” Jones helped set up Cincinnati’s first touchdown with a 40-yard punt return.
Bengals: H-back Ryan Hewitt injured his knee in the first half and didn’t return. C T.J. Johnson also went out with a neck injury.
Browns: WR Jordan Leslie (hamstring), LB Dominique Alexander (knee).
Bengals: Host Buffalo.
Browns: Host the Jets, led by former Cleveland quarterback Josh McCown.