1. 'Self-inflicted wounds' hurt Browns defense on pivotal drive
The start of the possession couldn't have been any better for the Browns defense.
Trailing 7-3 midway through the second quarter, the defense got the big hit in the backfield it wanted when Randy Starks burst through the line and delivered a form tackle on Cincinnati's Giovani Bernard. Starks was pumped about the play but his celebration crossed the boundaries, prompting a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Instead of a second-and-long near the 20, it was first down, Cincinnati, 15 yards up the field.
The Bengals used that momentum to drive deep into Browns territory, but their momentum stalled a bit inside the red zone. An Andy Dalton pass to Marvin Jones came up short of the sticks to set up a fourth-and-2. The Bengals went for it, and Dalton skipped a quick pass to his left for an incompletion and what appeared to be a turnover on downs.
Another penalty on Starks for lining up in the neutral zone gave the Bengals new life, and they capitalized with the second of three Tyler Eifert touchdowns to take a 14-3 lead.
In the locker room after the game, Starks, one of the most experienced players on Cleveland's entire defense, took responsibility for the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that kick-started the Bengals drive.
"That was a big drive for us defensively," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "Unfortunately two self-inflicted wounds and we end up with the resulting in points for them."
2. Injury update
The Browns suffered two injuries during Thursday's game but both players ultimately returned.
Offensive guard Joel Bitonio went to the locker room a few moments before his teammates for halftime because of an ankle injury. He returned for the start of the second half.
Rookie safety Ibraheim Campbell, who made the first start of his career, was sidelined with a hamstring injury throughout the first half but returned to play. De'Ante Saunders, who was signed from the practice squad Wednesday, filled in for Campbell during those spells.
Cleveland entered Thursday's game with six injured players who did not dress: WRs Brian Hartline (concussion) and Andrew Hawkins (concussion), DBs Joe Haden (concussion), Donte Whitner (concussion) and Jordan Poyer (shoulder) and quarterback Josh McCown (ribs/shoulder).
3. Tight ends punishing Browns inside the red zone
The Browns surrendered just one touchdown to a tight end through the first six weeks of the season.
In the past two weeks, they've allowed five, as Eifert collected a career-high three Thursday just a few days after Arizona's Troy Niklas had two.
Eifert finished with five catches for 53 yards, the longest coming on his third touchdown, a 19-yarder on a sluggo route.
"You want to point to the reasons why they're having the success they're having, the threats they have on the outside open up the middle of the field," Pettine said. "He's playing good football."
4. Solid 1st half for Isaiah Crowell, Browns running game
While plenty of attention was focused on what Johnny Manziel was able to accomplish in Thursday's first half, running back Isaiah Crowell quietly had his most productive 30 minutes of the season.
Crowell ran nine times for 42 yards and caught two passes for 19 yards. His 13-yard carry powered the Browns into field-goal range on their first scoring drive of the game.
The Browns finished with 69 rushing yards. Cleveland attempted just one run with a running back during the second half.
5. Pettine, Manziel express support for Gabriel
Starting in place of Hartline, Taylor Gabriel struggled throughout Thursday's game and finished with one catch for 3 yards on six targets.
"Nobody's going to be harder on themselves than Gabe. He's passionate about the game," Pettine said. "I'll take him on my team any day. It was just one of those nights."
Manziel said he's close with Gabriel off the field and said he talked with the receiver throughout the game, imploring the receiver he was going to keep throwing his way.
"I have a lot of faith in Gabe," Manziel said.