CINCINNATI (AP) — With drama swirling and doubt threatening to wreck Cleveland’s season, Myles Garrett felt Baker Mayfield needed to address the Browns before kickoff.
As pregame warmups finished, they had a moment while huddling with their teammates.
“He looked at me before I was about to speak,” Garrett said, “and I pointed at him and said, ‘You got it.’”
Mayfield and the Browns didn’t miss Odell Beckham Jr. one bit.
Mayfield threw two touchdown passes, Nick Chubb ran for 137 yards and the Browns, sparked by cornerback Denzel Ward’s early 99-yard interception return for a TD, ended a chaotic week by smashing Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals 41-16 on Sunday.
The Browns (5-4) came in desperate for a win after dropping three of four. Their situation turned turbulent on Wednesday when Beckham, the popular and polarizing wide receiver, was exiled for poor behavior and the team decided to release him.
But like last year, when Mayfield played more freely after Beckham suffered a season-ending knee injury — at Cincinnati — Cleveland’s QB was on target and the Browns put together their most complete game this season.
“Our whole locker room needed that,” Mayfield said. “We played for each other. It’s just the type of team we have. I trust the guys in this locker room. I’ve said it over and over again, and I truly mean it.
“When adversity hits, nobody flinched. It was a long week. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.”
The Bengals (5-4) hurt themselves with mistakes and dropped their second straight. Burrow threw two interceptions and was sacked five times — twice by blitzing cornerback Troy Hill — and standout Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase dropped two passes, one in the end zone.
“I didn’t play very well,” Burrow said. “If I play better, we have a chance to win that game. I just didn’t play well, and that’s all there is to it.”
Ward’s interception — at that point, just the sixth takeaway by Cleveland’s defense this season — came after the Browns had sacked Burrow on third down, only to have it nullified by tackle Malik McDowell lining up offside.
Burrow then tried to hit Chase in the right corner, but Ward jumped the route and returned it the length of the field, setting the tone on a day the Browns could do little wrong.
With each stride by Ward, the Browns seemed to put distance between themselves and the Beckham saga.
“We were focused on getting takeaways and then when he took it 100 to the house, I knew we had put it completely behind and we were ready,” Garrett said.
Leading 24-10 at halftime, the Browns put it away on Chubb’s 70-yard TD sprint in the third quarter, triggering a wild celebration along Cleveland’s sideline.
Chubb also scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter when the Browns built their big lead despite being outgained and their defense being on the field for nearly 23 minutes in the first half.
Mayfield, who has been playing for weeks with a stabilizing harness on his left shoulder, connected with Donovan Peoples-Jones on a 60-yard TD pass in the first half and an 18-yarder to David Njoku in the fourth.
Mayfield suffered a cut on his left knee in the second half and finished 14 of 21 for 218 yards and a 132.6 passer rating.
Burrow went 28 of 40 for 282 yards and the two picks, raising his season total to 22.
The Browns are the first team since the 1967 San Diego Chargers to record an interception return for a touchdown, a receiving TD and a rushing TD of at least 60 yards in a single game.
Beckham’s relationship with the team came to a head Tuesday, when the receiver’s father shared a video on social media of Mayfield not throwing the ball to his wide-open son. The posting came hours before the trade deadline and was a final straw as the Browns had grown tired of Beckham’s selfish attitude and trade demands.
Mayfield was the one caught in the middle, but said he doesn’t have any hard feelings toward Beckham.
“I wish him well,” he said. “He’s a good friend of mine. We still haven’t talked, but that doesn’t change things. I wish him the best in his career, but I’m worried about the guys in our locker room.
“I’m proud of these guys how they were able to focus up despite all the (stuff) that was going on this week and how they were able to do their job.”
Beckham would have been waived before Monday, but the NFL’s transaction wire is only open on the weekend for game-related moves.
If he isn’t claimed by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, he’s a free agent and can sign with any team.
Browns: CB Greedy Williams went out on Cincinnati’s second series with a right shoulder injury and didn’t return. He missed all of 2020 with a nerve issue in the same shoulder.
Bengals: Returner/S Brandon Wilson was carted off the field with a left knee injury suffered on a run back in the second quarter. … LB Akeem Davis-Gaither didn’t play in the second half after hurting his left knee.
Browns: Visit New England on Nov. 14.
Bengals: Get their bye this week before playing at Las Vegas on Nov. 21.
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