CLEVELAND — In search of their first win, the Browns were undone by missed opportunities and self-inflicted wounds in a loss to the Bengals.
Cleveland fell to in-state rival Cincinnati, 31-7, Sunday in game where it was hampered by turnovers, penalties and other miscues. Those mistakes offered the NFL's youngest team no favors at FirstEnergy Stadium in game where it struggled on both sides of the ball.
The Browns (0-4) got off to another slow start and were unable to climb climb out of an early hole. The Bengals (1-3), meanwhile, scored on five straight possessions and held Cleveland to just 215 total yards and 5-of-16 on third down.
The Browns were shutout until running back Duke Johnson scored on a 1-yard run with 1:54 to play.
Playing without starters linebacker Jamie Collins, defensive lineman Danny Shelton and rookie edge rusher and first-overall draft pick Myles Garrett (who has yet to make his debut), Cleveland's defense allowed a season-high 343 yards and couldn't slow down the league's 26th-ranked passing attack.
After struggling in his first three games, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton returned to Pro Bowl form in Cleveland. The veteran passed for four touchdowns and 286 yards on 25 of 30 attempts. He tossed two of those scores to backup tight end Tyler Kroft, who caught a team-high six passes for 68 yards.
After stressing the need for a fast start, the Browns were plagued by another sluggish first half punctuated by a dropped pass-turned-interception, a bobbled snap and missed field goal that squandered a Bengals turnover early in the game. In four games, Cleveland has been outscored 63-28 before intermission.
Following a scoreless first quarter, the Bengals scored on three straight possessions in the first half. It started when A.J. Green caught a 7-yard touchdown running toward the back of the end zone. Green, the six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, finished with five catches for 63 yards.
Dalton engineered an 88-yard, 13-play drive on the next series, which he punctuated with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Kroft. After forcing another Browns punt, the Bengals scored again when Dalton zipped a short pass to Giovani Bernard that went for 61 yards.
The Browns, meanwhile, struggled to find their footing on offense for the fourth-straight week. They had 106 yards in the first half and watched an interception end a promising drive when Kenny Britt bobbled a pass from rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer in the red zone. Before that, rookie kicker Zane Gonzalez missed a 48-yard field goal that would have capitalized on Emmanuel Ogbah's strip-sack of Dalton.
Kizer, making his fourth NFL regular season start, finished with 118 yards and an interception on 16 of 34 attempts.
The Browns host the New York Jets next weekend.
The Browns take on the Cincinnati Bengals at home in Week 4.