Browns finally ride Nick Chubb to keep slim playoff hopes alive

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns seemed to have forgotten that they boasted the NFL's leading rusher. And on top of it, that they were facing the NFL's worst run defense.

Thank goodness for their slim playoff hopes, they remembered in time for the second half.

After inexplicably giving Nick Chubb only three carries over the first two quarters, Cleveland rode its star running back the rest of the way to a 27-19 victory Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Together, Chubb and backfield wingman Kareem Hunt combined for the 114 yards on 16 carries in the second half.

But in the first half, the pair had only six rushes for 17 yards, as the Browns curiously opted to air it out with quarterback Baker Mayfield instead.

Chubb, in fact, had only one carry the entire first quarter. And Cleveland's first two drives ended in Mayfield interceptions (although the first was initially ruled a fumble by tight end David Njoku). That allowed the 1-12 Bengals to jump to an early lead, despite Denzel Ward's first career pick-six with the Browns.

Chubb came into the game leading the NFL with 1,175 rushing yards while averaging 4.9 yards per carry. The Bengals, meanwhile, had the NFL's worst rushing defense, allowing almost 158 yards per game, 14 more yards than any other defense in the league.

The Browns were finally able to take advantage once they started handing off to Chubb.

On their opening drive of the second half, they gave the ball to Chubb on three straight plays, which produced 66 rushing yards, including a dazzling 57-yard scamper. That set up Hunt's 3-yard touchdown, his third in as many weeks for the Browns. In the third quarter alone, Chubb rushed for 91 yards on seven carries, stabilizing the game for Cleveland.

Pivotal play: Trailing 13-7 and with the FirstEnergy Stadium getting anxious, the Browns faced third-and-19 from their own 16-yard line. That's when Mayfield connected with Jarvis Landry down the middle of the field for a 20-yard first down. The conversion shifted momentum, with Mayfield capping the drive with a 7-yard touchdown scramble. The Browns never trailed again.

QB breakdown: Mayfield torched the Bengals in two meetings last season, throwing seven touchdowns with no interceptions. He did not torch them Sunday. Mayfield was picked off twice in the first half, even though it should be noted that the first was not his fault, as recently activated tight end David Njoku had the ball wrestled away from him as he was going to the ground. Still, Mayfield had trouble most of the day against the Bengals, as he went just 1 for 8 for 5 yards with a pick against the blitz in the first half, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Mayfield almost tossed a third interception late in the game trying to force the ball to Odell Beckham Jr., which would have given the Bengals the ball inside the red zone with a chance to tie. But officials overturned the pick, calling defensive pass interference on the Bengals. Mayfield wound up completing only 11 of 24 passes for a quarterback rating of 38.9. That was enough for the Browns to beat the worst team in the league.

Describe the game in two words: Odell overshadows. The drama surrounding Beckham, his health and whether he'll want to be in Cleveland past this season seemed to loom over the entire game.