A tale of two halves to say the least.
A.J. Green’s 51-yard catch set up Mike Nugent’s game-winning field goal in the final minute, lifting the Bengals to a 23-20 win over the Browns on Sunday.
Green leaped to catch Andy Dalton’s high pass in the middle of the field, then raced to the right sideline before he was pushed out of bounds at the two-yard line.
Nugent’s 26-yard kick on fourth down gave Cincinnati its first lead of the game with 38 seconds left.
It came after Cleveland’s Phil Dawson missed a 55-yarder at the other end on a bad snap.
Dalton passed for 270 yards and a touchdown for the Bengals (7-4), who were coming off back-to-back losses to the two teams they’re battling to win the AFC North — Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
They will face both again before the end of the season.
All three of Green’s catches went for at least 24 yards and each one set up scores. He finished with 110 yards while Cedric Benson rushed for 106 yards and a score despite leaving the game several minutes before halftime with a leg injury.
Colt McCoy passed for 151 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for the Browns (4-7), who had Peyton Hillis back in the lineup for the first time in six games.
Hillis rushed 19 times for 65 yards, while wide receivers Jordan Norwood and Greg Little both scored their first NFL touchdowns. Norwood’s touchdown was Cleveland’s first TD in the first quarter this season.
Cleveland had leads of 17-7 and 20-10, but Cincinnati scored the last 13 points of the game.
McCoy was picked off by Reggie Nelson on the first play of the fourth quarter, and the Bengals turned it into Nugent’s 40-yard field goal to tie the game at 20-20.
The teams both punted twice before Dawson — after the snap hit a leg and skipped to the holder — missed short and left on his 55-yard try inside the two minute warning.
Dawson was 2-for-3 in the game, hitting a 54-yarder in the third quarter.
The Browns were spoiled at running back Sunday, considering how things have gone this season. Hillis, despite being ruled out last Monday, returned from a hamstring injury to play for the first time in six games.
Fellow running backs Montario Hardesty (calf) and Owen Marecic (head) were also active, but didn’t see any action. Chris Ogbonnaya, who rushed for a career-high 115 yards last week against the Jaguars, ran three times for 16 yards.
For Cincinnati, Benson appeared to injure his ankle when he was tripped up at the end of a 10-yard catch late in the second quarter. He was looked at by trainers and appeared to labor as he put weight on the leg, but came back in the second half.
Norwood caught a 24-yard touchdown pass just 4:05 into the game — Cleveland’s only first quarter TD of the season.
Benson was stopped on a 4th-and-1 play at the other end, but the Browns punted and Cincinnati struck quickly on a three-play drive, with Dalton throwing a 24-yard pass to Green and Benson slipping through a seam on the left side for a 16-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
The Browns got a 32-yard field goal from Dawson midway through the second quarter — it was barely good inside the left upright — and then converted a turnover into a late score before halftime.
First, Cleveland had an interception negated by a defensive holding penalty. But Dalton fumbled two plays later and McCoy hit Little in the left side of the end zone for a three-yard touchdown and 17-7 lead.
After Nugent kicked a 23-yard field goal to get Cincinnati within 17-10 on the first possession of the third quarter, Cleveland followed with a 54-yarder from Dawson.
But the Bengals came right back with a quick strike, pulling within 20-17 when Dalton hit Jermaine Gresham in tight coverage inside the right pylon for a 22- yard touchdown. The score was set up by Green’s 35-yard catch.
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