Three quick reactions from the Browns' 23-10 loss to the Bengals ...
Trial by fire for Robert Griffin III
The Browns didn't have another set of training camp practices to get Robert Griffin III ready for Sunday's start. Returning from a serious injury during the course of the season can be a tricky thing because practices are dialed back in intensity and more geared toward game-planning. It makes the transition to "game speed" all the more stark, and Griffin experienced that firsthand Sunday.
In his first start since Week 1, Griffin struggled in the first half, missing on a number of deep ball tries and intermediate throws, before settling down a bit in the second when Cleveland's ground game picked up steam. His biggest mistake, a second-quarter interception on a flea flicker from the end zone, was costly and ultimately led to Cincinnati's third and final touchdown in the first half.
His scrambling ability opened up some holes in the running game -- much like Kevin Hogan's zone-read plays did Week 7 in Cincinnati -- and the Browns had one of their best rushing efforts in two months. Perhaps his best play of the game came in the second quarter, when he scrambled and made something out of nothing on a third-and-9 throw to Gary Barnidge for 13 yards.
The performance left Browns coach Hue Jackson discouraged because of the final result but encouraged by a handful of things he saw from Griffin, who was 12-of-28 for 104 yards to go along with 31 rushing yards.
"I thought he had good poise," Jackson said. "I didn't feel like it was too big for him. Obviously, there are some plays that we wish we had back and he will wish that he had back. That is Robert's [second] game where he has really been out there playing in two years. Like I said the other day, if things go great, good. If they do not go as good, that is OK, too. We have to grow from it. He will grow from it and continue to get better."
Griffin is anticipated to start next week at Buffalo.
"The more I play, the better I will get," Griffin said. "It is tough to be off for three months during the course of the season and to come back into the game and expect for everything to go perfectly. It did not go perfectly. But, I thought as a team, we did a good job fighting through the things that did not go perfect."
Rushing attack springs to life in 2nd half
Sunday's first half was more of the same for a Browns running game that hasn't been the same since Week 4. The Browns had 52 yards, 19 coming on a single run, and had just two first downs picked up on the ground.
The third quarter, though, was a resurgence of sorts, and Isaiah Crowell led the way.
Trailing 20-0 early in the third quarter, Crowell burst through the line with a 42-yard run to get the Browns in Bengals territory for the first time all game. A few plays later, Cleveland was in the end zone for the first time on a 1-yard Griffin scramble. On the following possession, Crowell went 30 yards on a third-and-1 to extend a drive that ended with a field goal.
Ultimately, the Browns accumulated 97 of their 169 rushing yards in the third quarter. Crowell had his fourth 100-yard game of the season, finishing with 113 on just 10 carries.
Familiar foes tough on Browns D
The Bengals were without two of their top playmakers, but they still had Jeremy Hill and Tyler Eifert, who have had big games in the past against Cleveland and each notched another Sunday.
Hill, who ran for 168 yards when the teams met Week 7, paced a Cincinnati ground attack with 111 yards and a touchdown. The Bengals, who are without speedy scat back Giovani Bernard for the rest of the season, finished with 213 rushing yards and were able to ice the game with multiple rushing first downs late in the fourth quarter.
Eifert, the Pro Bowl tight end who struggled in his 2016 debut against the Browns, took over the top playmaker role from A.J. Green (hamstring) and caught two touchdowns. He finished with five catches for 48 yards and has five touchdowns in his last three games against Cleveland.
The Browns play the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14.