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Browns blow out Bengals on 'TNF,' move into first

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A trio of Browns running backs combined for 169 yards and three touchdowns to lead Cleveland to a 24-3 blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night. The victory moved the Browns into first place for the first time in two decades. Our takeaways:

1. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported hours before the game that Thursday's performance would be a referendum for Brian Hoyer's potential contract extension and job security. If the wind tortured Andy Dalton, Hoyer seemed oblivious to the effects, managing the game well -- as he has all season. Now in control of the division with two winnable games on the horizon, Hoyer is sitting pretty, unthreatened by the presence of Johnny Manziel.

2. For unvarnished ineptitude, Dalton's night ranks with Josh Freeman's debaculous Vikings debut as the starkest we have seen over the past few years. It was a complete meltdown, beginning with a head-scratching illegal forward pass and extending through wild streaks of overthrows and dropped interceptions. Dalton's passer rating (2.0) and completion rate (30.3) were the lowest by any NFL quarterback since 1983 and 1992, respectively.

Dalton's performance drops his record to 2-9 in nationally televised games since entering the league. In those 11 games, he has completed 226 of 414 passes (54.6 percent) for 2,299 yards (5.6 yards per attempt), an 8:14 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 63.2 passer rating. In other words, he has been equivalent to Blaine Gabbert when the world is watching. Whether it's tougher competition, nerves, talent, random splits or an unholy combination thereof, it has to be a long-term concern in the Queen City.

3. With Vontaze Burfict in and out of the lineup, the Bengals have surrendered an average of 157 yards on the ground in the past seven games. They have allowed more rushing touchdowns between the tackles than any team in the league. The defense's shaky backbone took another hit Thursday night, when Geno Atkins injured his surgically repaired knee in the second half. There was no update on the severity of the injury.

4. The Browns entered the game planning to ride the hot hand in a three-man backfield. Terrance West played the feature back role when the game was close, giving way to Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell deep in the red zone and in garbage time. We would expect West to lead the attack again versus J.J. Watt next week.

5. After a slow start to the season, Browns cornerback Joe Haden has been excellent of late. He has limited A.J. Green to 23, 7 and 51 yards in their last three matchups. Still fighting a toe injury, Green was visibly frustrated on at least one of Dalton's errant throws.

6. Bengals play-caller Hue Jackson drew raves for his early-season work, but he was outcoached by Kyle Shanahan of the Browns. Shanahan has done a masterful job of keeping Hoyer out of obvious passing situations, bolstering his quarterback with the league's best play-action scheme.

7. With Andre Smith nursing an ankle injury, Marshall Newhouse was a major liability at right tackle. The Bengals will have to hope Smith can play next week at New Orleans.

8. Fun with fantasy football stats, courtesy of NFL Media's Akbar Gbajabiamila: Manziel scored more points from the sideline (0) than Dalton managed (-1.76) for nearly four quarters.

9. Now standing atop the AFC North, the Browns are off to their best start since 1994. They should be favored the next two weeks against the Texans and Falcons. Meanwhile, the Bengals hit the road for three straight games, starting with a forbidding matchup at New Orleans in Week 11.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast previews every Week 10 game and recaps the Browns' blowout win over the Bengals. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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