CLEVELAND (AP) — Bengals coach Marvin Lewis found his good friend near midfield and gave him a hug.
Hue Jackson needed one. The besieged Browns coach could use a lot more than an embrace right now.
After Cincinnati got its first win this season, thrashing Cleveland 31-7 on Sunday, Lewis weaved his way around players, coaches and cameramen to greet Jackson, his former offensive coordinator who is 1-19 in two seasons with the Browns.
The men shared a moment and Lewis offered some advice to Jackson.
“Don’t let ‘em quit on ya,” he said.
Four games into what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, the Browns are in shambles — still. A week after an embarrassing performance in Indianapolis, where they fell behind by 21 points and never recovered, the Browns were down 31-0 in the third quarter to the previously winless Bengals.
They only avoided a shutout with a meaningless touchdown in the final two minutes.
There are no signs the Browns (0-4) are laying down for Jackson, but Lewis’ comment about quitting is curious given that the season is only 25 percent complete.
Jackson didn’t offer any excuses . And as he has done almost from the start of last season, he vowed to stay positive and keep working until he gets the Browns headed the right way.
“We didn’t play well,” he said. “We didn’t play well anywhere. We didn’t coach well. We didn’t play well. We didn’t do anything well. Cincinnati had a lot to do with that. We did not play as well as I think our football team can play.”
Not long after Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton threw his fourth touchdown pass t o put the Bengals ahead by 31, thousands of Browns fans began streaming out of FirstEnergy Stadium, which was barely one-quarter filled when the game ended.
Jackson said the mass exodus was difficult to watch.
“It pains me,” he said. “I see it all. I saw everything here today because we all want to give them what they deserve. We didn’t today. I understand our fans leaving. I probably would have, too. We weren’t playing good enough.
“I respect that. Hopefully, they will be back next week. We need to give our fans and our football team what they deserve, which is an opportunity to win. That is what we are trying to do.”
As bad as it is, things could get worse for the Browns, who remain the only team not to hold the lead this season.
Next week they host the New York Jets, who improved to 2-2 with a win over Jacksonville. The Jets are starting quarterback Josh McCown, who was released in the offseason by Cleveland.
Here are some other takeaways from Cincinnati’s latest rout on the shore of Lake Erie:
Dalton was nearly perfect in the first half, completing 17 of 18 passes while throwing three TD passes. During one stretch, he completed 16 straight and finished 25 of 30 for 286 yards and a 146 rating.
It’s quite a reversal for Dalton, who didn’t throw a TD and had four interceptions in the first two games. In the past two, he has six TDs without a pick and is 46 of 57 for 498 yards.
Bengals linebacker Carl Lawson was smiling after the win, but not as brightly.
Lawson was attempting to sack Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer when something went wrong.
“When I’m bringing him down I see my teeth in the air,” Lawson said. “I’m like, ‘oh crap.’ “
A few teammates and members of Cincinnati’s training staff went onto the field to help Lawson retrieve his teeth. He hopes to get them fixed when the team gets back home.
The Bengals make the most of their visits to the shores of Lake Erie, winning their past four games in Cleveland by a combined 121-20.
Cincinnati has also won six straight in the “Battle of Ohio” and 20 of 26 against the AFC North rival.
Maybe no player epitomizes Cleveland’s struggles more than wide receiver Kenny Britt, who signed a four-year, $32.5 million free agent contract with the team during the offseason. Britt was supposed to replace leading receiver Terrelle Pryor, but has been a major disappointment.
Britt has been plagued by drops and he had a costly miscue in the second quarter when he let a pass from Kizer slip through his hands, bounce off his shoulder pads and get intercepted as the Browns were inside the 10.
Britt also had a false start, and he’s become a target for disgruntled fans.
“If we listen to the boos, it’s going to get worse,” he said, “or if we get down, it’s just going to get worse.”