By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) — Baker Mayfield threw two touchdown passes, Nick Chubb ran for 137 yards and the Cleveland Browns, sparked by cornerback Denzel Ward’s early 99-yard interception return for a TD, capped 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 dramatic on Wednesday when star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. 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 to humble the Bengals (5-4), who hurt themselves with mistakes as they dropped their second straight.
Burrow threw two interceptions and was sacked five times — three by blitzing cornerback Troy Hill — and Bengals rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase dropped two passes, one in the end zone.
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, who suffered a cut on his left knee in the second half, 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.
Ward’s stunning pick-6 in the first quarter was the first of three turnovers forced by Cleveland’s defense. The Browns got constant pressure on Burrow, who fell to 0-3 against them.
Sunday’s game provided the Browns an opportunity to move on from the Beckham brouhaha.
His relationship with the team came to a head Tuesday, when Beckham’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.
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.
Ward needed oxygen on the sideline and missed most of Cincinnati’s subsequent 75-yard scoring drive, which ended with Joe Mixon’s 11-yard score.
He would have been waived before Monday, but the NFL’s transaction wire is only open on the weekend for game-related moves.
If Beckham 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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