Bengals backups come up just short in loss to Cleveland

Jan 9, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen (8) throws the...
Jan 9, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen (8) throws the ball against the Cleveland Browns during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium.(Scott Galvin- USA Today Sports)
Published: Jan. 9, 2022 at 4:11 PM EST
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CLEVELAND (Cincinnati Enquirer) - Two hours before the Cincinnati Bengals kicked off against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was the only Bengals player on the field warming up.

In a game where nearly every other starter sat for the playoff-bound Bengals, Chase had one last thing to play for in the regular season. The Bengals franchise record for single-season receiving yards was 12 yards away. Even though Chase only needed one catch, he wanted to be ready for his moment and prepared to get it as early as possible in the game.

On the Bengals’ second drive, Chase broke Chad Johnson’s record from 2007 and finished the year with 1,455 receiving yards. Then Chase ran to the sideline to watch the rest of the game, and the Bengals turned their full attention toward the playoffs.

The Browns beat the Bengals, 21-16, in a game where the Bengals virtually had nothing to play for. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow didn’t make the trip to Cleveland, and Chase was the only starting skill position player who appeared in the game. On defense, the Bengals started 11 backups.

The Bengals entered Sunday with the chance to enter the postseason with a seed between No. 2 and No. 4, but improving the seeding wasn’t the priority. The priority was getting Burrow and the rest of the starters healthy into the postseason.

While the game featured the Bengals second teamers against the Browns starters, Cincinnati nearly came back from a 14-point deficit.

The Bengals were an inch away from an opportunity for a potential game-winning drive. Following a touchdown with 2:26 left, the Bengals nearly recovered an onside kick. Following a deflection, a scrum of Bengals players nearly pounced on the ball to give the team a chance for the game-winning drive.

Several of the Bengals backups laid out near the 50-yard line to try to dive on the ball and make their first game-changing play with the Bengals. But the ball bounced just out of reach.

But the Browns recovered and ran out the clock for a win over a Bengals team that played its second string players for nearly the entire game.

At one point, it looked like the Bengals wouldn’t be able to keep it close against a team playing its starters. Behind a 26-yard touchdown reception by Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry and a touchdown run by D’Ernest Johnson, the Browns took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.

For most of the first half, the Bengals offense had no momentum with the offensive line struggling and backup quarterback Brandon Allen lacking any rhythm with the Bengals backup wide receivers.

The game turned with 3:40 left in the second quarter. Bengals defensive end Wyatt Ray chased down Browns quarterback Case Keenum and forced the first fumble of Ray’s career. Bengals safety Trayvon Henderson picked it up and returned the fumble for his first career touchdown.

The Bengals stayed in the game the entire way. The Browns only led 14-10 with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Cleveland ran the ball nine consecutive times on a 10-play, 46-yard touchdown drive to take an 11-point lead.

Allen led the Bengals back into the game with the first touchdown drive of the day for the Bengals offense. Behind two 20-plus yard completions to wide receiver Trent Taylor and a touchdown throw to running back Chris Evans, the Bengals cut their deficit to 5 points with 2:26 left in the game.

The Bengals tried an onside kick following the touchdown. After the ball took several bounces, the Browns recovered the kick to seal the win.

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