CLEVELAND (AP) – Andy Dalton has Cincinnati on the brink of the playoffs again.
This season, though, that won’t be nearly enough.
Dalton threw two touchdown passes and ran for a score and the Cincinnati Bengals moved closer to a playoff berth and the AFC North title with a 37-3 win Sunday over the woeful Cleveland Browns, who dropped their seventh straight.
Dalton connected with A.J. Green for a 23-yard TD pass in the second quarter and the Bengals moved to 10-2 for just the second time in team history.
Cincinnati needed a complex scenario to clinch a playoff spot this week, and even if that doesn’t happen, the Bengals are still poised to make the postseason for the fifth season in a row.
Green finished with 128 yards on five catches as the Bengals completed a season sweep of their northern Ohio neighbors. Cleveland has been outscored 98-13 in its past three games with Cincinnati.
The Browns (2-10) lost for the second time in six days and had two more starters go down with injuries in a season that can’t end soon enough.
Cleveland QB Austin Davis passed for 231 yards in his first start this season.
The Bengals have been among the league’s most consistent teams, making the playoffs in each of the past four seasons behind Dalton.
They’ve yet to win a playoff game with their red-haired QB, but Cincinnati is determined to end that streak and appear to have all the ingredients to make a Super Bowl run.
Dalton finished 14 of 19 for 220 yards. He eclipsed 3,000 yards this season, joining Peyton Manning as the only QBs in league history to pass for at least 3,000 yards in each of their first five seasons.
Dalton’s 21-yard TD pass to Marvin Jones late in the third quarter made it 34-3, and sent the few Browns fans who bothered staying for the second half heading toward the exits.
Cleveland’s having another disastrous season, and coach Mike Pettine’s future is in serious doubt. The Browns are 2-15 in their past 17 games under Pettine, who earlier this week expressed disappointment at his team’s status and said he may soon have discussions about what’s next with owner Jimmy Haslam.
Davis was the Browns’ 24th starting quarterback since 1999, and he suffered the same fate as so many before him. He completed 25 of 37 passes, but lost wide receivers Travis Benjamin and Marlon Moore to injuries and was continuously harassed by Bengals defensive linemen.
Pettine picked Davis to play ahead over demoted QB Johnny Manziel, who could get a start next week against San Francisco.
It was Cleveland’s most lopsided loss since a 41-0 drubbing by Pittsburgh on Dec. 24, 2005.
Dalton’s 3-yard sneak capped an 84-yard drive, which started with his 57-yard pass to Green, to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Bengals flanked four receivers on the left side to confuse the Browns before Dalton took the snap and picked his way in for his third rushing TD this season.
Cincinnati went up 14-0 on Dalton’s strike to Green, who got behind Tramon Williams and hauled in the pass without a Cleveland defender in sight.
Jeremy Hill’s 1-yard TD run made it 27-3, and the Bengals back celebrated by leaping into Cleveland’s stands to celebrate. That move irritated Browns linebacker Chris Kirksey, who confronted Hill and was called for unsportsmanlike conduct – one of the few times the Browns showed any fight.
Dalton didn’t have one of his top options as tight Tyler Eifert, who leads the league with 12 TD catches, sat out with a neck injury.
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