AFC: Dalton throws 4 TD passes, Bengals blow out Browns, 31-7


AFC: Dalton throws 4 TD passes, Bengals blow out Browns, 31-7

CLEVELAND - Andy Dalton threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first half and Cincinnati's offense found the perfect opponent to work out some early season struggles and the Bengals rolled to a 31-7 win on Sunday over the overmatched Cleveland Browns.

Dalton only missed on one throw in the first half, going 17 of 18 for 215 yards as the Bengals (1-3) built a 21-0 lead.

He connected with A.J. Green, Tyler Croft and Giovani Bernard while dissecting the young Browns (0-4), who were again plagued by mistakes and were down three defensive starters.

Dalton, who came in as the NFL's 30th-ranked QB, finished 25 of 30 for 286 yards. His second TD to Croft in the third quarter made it 31-0, and sent even some of the most die-hard Browns fans toward the FirstEnergy Stadium exits.

The Browns avoided a shutout with 1:54 left.

This was the breakthrough the Bengals were looking for after a sluggish start, which included coach Marvin Lewis firing offensive coordinator Ken Zampese after the offense failed to score a TD in its first two games. But after a solid performance last week with Bill Lazor calling plays in an overtime loss at Green Bay, the Bengals broke free against the Browns.

Everybody does.

Cleveland fell to 1-19 in two seasons under coach Hue Jackson, who has been handed the league's youngest roster and is trying to break in rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer without many weapons.

The Browns are hurting themselves with unforced errors, but they're also regressing since a 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh in Week 1.

With hard-hitting linebacker Vontaze Burfict back from a three-game suspension, Cincinnati's defense also got to flex its muscles. Burfict made his presence known with his typical hits and he was also flagged for roughing Kizer in the fourth quarter.

The Browns were again without top pick Myles Garrett. The rookie pass rusher returned to practice Thursday and didn't report any problems, but the Browns are being cautious and will delay his regular-season debut at least one more week. They were also missing starting outside linebacker Jamie Collins (concussion) and massive tackle Danny Shelton (calf).

Dalton dominated the rest of Cleveland's defense.

Already up by two TDs, the Bengals got the ball back with 1:40 left in the first half and appeared content to play it safe and maybe get into field-goal position.

But the Browns blitzed and Dalton alertly dumped the ball into the right flat to the speedy Bernard. With a convoy of blockers in front of him, Bernard streaked untouched to the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown.

Later in the quarter, Cleveland was threatening to score, but disappointing wide receiver Kenny Britt let a pass go through his hands, off his shoulder pads and into the hands of Cincinnati's Clayton Fejedelam for an interception.

Dalton took it from there, completing six straight passes before threading his first scoring strike to Kroft, who filled in for the injured Tyler Eifert.


'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

Rob Gronkowski, decked out in his finest St. Patrick's Day duds over the weekend in Nashville, reportedly tried to shed some light on his NFL future.

Of course, while Gronk was doing Gronk things, he told a Patriots fan one thing and a reporter another.

Breech is an NFL writer for His father is former Cincinnati Bengals kicker Jim Breech. And the "69ers" aren't a real team.


AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

The Patriots' "direction" never really changes. They're always "going for it" because they're always one of the best teams in the league. 

The rest of the AFC East is usually in flux. The other teams range from hoping for 8-8 to trying to bottom out in hopes of a high draft pick. Yet right now, it seems the stars are aligning and that the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all have the mindset: Change things now and be ready to pounce once Brady is gone. 

The Jets traded up to No. 3 on Saturday, assuring themselves a chance at one of this draft's top quarterbacks. The Bills, with picks Nos. 12 and 22, are expected by pundits to make a similar move up. The Dolphins, fresh off cutting bait with Ndamukong Suh in an attempt at a culture change, have the 11th pick and could use it on a quarterback to either push or replace Ryan Tannehill. 

None of the three teams are close to pushing the Patriots as long as Brady's around, even with the Bills coming off a season in which they reached the playoffs. Yet there's a two-or-three-year plan on which all three teams could have designs: Get the quarterback now, build around him and be in a good situation by the time Brady is done. 

We've seen these teams try to rebuild before during the Brady Era, with only limited success. Mark Sanchez worked out better in New York than anyone could have initially expected, but that success lasted way shorter than any believers could have hoped. Now, it seems they try again. 

Over in Buffalo, the end of the Tyrod Taylor era hardly means the beginning of the Nathan Peterman era. Those two first-rounders should easily be able to get the Bills into the top five, and they've also got two second-rounders and two third-rounders. Hell, they have the pieces to get to No. 1 if Cleveland is bold enough to pass on their choice of Darnold/Rosen/Allen/Mayfield. 

The Dolphins are in the more interesting spot. Tannehill missed all of last season and he's 29. If you're six years into your career and your team still isn't totally sure if you can be one of the better QBs in the league, you probably aren't one of the better QBs in the league. At the very least, Lamar Jackson should be there at No. 11. They could also trade up. 

At the start of last season, the Patriots had far and away the two best QBs in the AFC East. Now, it stands to reason that at least two of their divisional opponents (the Jets and Bills) will come away with what they hope are franchise quarterbacks. And if any of these guys hit, the Pats will have gone from the best QB situation in the NFL to seeing some actual competition waiting for them by the time their own quarterback is done. 

Of course, all three of these teams usually suck at everything, so it shouldn't be a big deal.