Looking for winners in that performance, at least on the offensive side of the ball, is tougher than finding third-down conversions on the play-by-play sheet.
But defensively, there were some bright spots.
Cincinnati Bengals Week 1 Winners and Losers
Winner | CB DJ Turner
The rookie second-round pick played more snaps at corner (23) in his first career game than Dax Hill played at safety (17) all of his rookie season last year.
With cornerback Chidobe Awuzie playing his first game since tearing his ACL on the same FirstEnergy Stadium field, the Bengals employed a rotation with him and Turner, giving the rookie some valuable reps.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor confirmed after the game it was just a matter of load management for Awuzie.
Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson threw at Turner on multiple occasions, and he held up in coverage. Turner finished with two tackles and a solid enough debut performance to give the Bengals confidence should they need to use him more as the season progresses.
Winner | S Dax Hill
The 2022 first-round pick recorded his first career interception when he hauled in a pass that slipped out of Watson’s hands with 9:53 left in the third quarter. Hill said he thought the ball was tipped by a teammate, but it didn’t appear that was the case.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) September 10, 2023
Hill returned the pick 20 yards to set up the struggling Bengals offense at midfield. The turnover should have led to points, but Evan McPherson missed a 51-yard field goal to keep the score 10-3, and then the Browns scored on their next three possessions for the final 24-3 margin.
A big question all offseason was how the new safety duo of Nick Scott and Hill would communicate and perform after veterans Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell left in free agency. Hill said there were no issues from a communication standpoint.
“I thought we communicated well,” he said. “As the weeks go on, we’re gonna just be even better,” Hill said. “Week 1 wasn’t bad, and we can always learn from this game.”
Hill also was a factor in the run game, finishing with six tackles, two of which resulted in losses for the Browns, although both of those came in the final two minutes once the game was decided.
Winner | LB Germaine Pratt
Pratt had a big game in his first since signing a three-year, $20.3 million contract to stay in Cincinnati.
His 11 tackles were tied with Scott for the team high, and Pratt also recorded a sack and forced a fumble. The forced fumble came in the first quarter after Jerome Ford had gained eights yards on a 2nd-and-5 play to give Cleveland a first down in the red zone.
Pratt grabbed Ford’s arm and separated it from the ball, and Awuzie recovered it for a key stop.
His sack came on the previous series when Pratt got to Watson on a 1st-and-10 play at the Cleveland 29.
Loser | QB Joe Burrow
Signing a five-year, $275 million extension Saturday morning only added more fuel for a Browns defense that has feasted on the Bengals ever since Burrow arrived in Cincinnati.
It’s not that one game invalidates the decision to pay Burrow that much money, but any loss is going to gnaw at him, especially this one, which was statistically the worst game of his career. But he tried to downplay the disappointment of the loss after the game.
“Stuff like this happens,” he said. “We have been here before. We are going to come back stronger. It’s one week. Obviously, not up to our standard, not up to my standard. Got 16 more. Just got to keep trucking.”
Loser | WR Tee Higgins
Eight targets. Zero catches. That pretty much says it all.
It was the 24th time in Higgins’ career he’s had at least eight targets. His previously low performance was three catches for 26 yards in the 2020 loss at Washington, the game when Burrow tore his ACL.
“I don’t want to end a game with no catches,” Higgins said. “So I’ll put my head down, get back to work, grind out, work out, and do all the little things and come back next week bigger and better than ever.”
Loser | WR Ja’Marr Chase
Not only did Chase have just 39 yards on five receptions, but his comments from earlier in the week provided the extra fire you never want to hand an opponent.
And then, after the game, Chase doubled down by calling the Browns “elves” once again.
Loser | The Offensive Line
As has become tradition against the Browns, the offensive line couldn’t protect Burrow. Cleveland only finished with two sacks, but there were 10 quarterback hits and numerous hurries. It was the first time in Burrow’s career he didn’t complete a pass of more than 10 air yards.
The misty, rainy weather obviously played a role in that, but so did the offensive line not giving Burrow much time all afternoon.
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