The question now is, will he stay or will he go?
The loss was overshadowed by Kitchens’ job status and what the Browns might do. Rumors and reports swirled before the game that the Browns were leaning towards firing Kitchens, who flamed out in this Season of Great Expectations.
Rarely in the NFL has a head coach done so little with so much talent. The Browns were undisciplined and lost to teams much of the season that they should’ve dispatched easily, including the Bengals, who won for only the second time this season and finished 2-14.
The only other team the Bengals have defeated this season was the Jets.
The Browns, despite the addition of stars such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt, took a step back from last season, when they finished 7-8-1. This is the 10th straight year the Browns have lost their final game of the regular season.
If the Browns fire Kitchens, which seems likely, he will be the sixth head coach fired since the end of the 2010 season and the fifth since the Haslams took over in 2012.
He will be the second coach in the new era to be one-and-done, the first being Rob Chudzinski, who was fired by the Haslams after going 4-12 in 2013.
Kitchens, who refused to give up play calling to offensive coordinator Todd Monken all season, presided over an underperforming offense that struggled to score all season.
Beckham’s spectacular 20-yard touchdown catch late in Sunday’s game was only his fourth of the season. Double that total and the Browns probably would’ve won at least another game or two.
Curiously, most of the Browns players passed on opportunities over the past week or so to give Kitchens a vote of confidence. Left guard Joel Bitonio said Friday that he supported whatever the Browns wanted to do with Kitchens as long as it leads to winning.
He said he’s tired of losing and “it’s put up or shut up time” next year.
“We have to make changes of some sort and if it’s players, if it’s scheme, if it’s things like that, there has to be a step to improve as a team,’’ he said. “Have a hard truth like what can you do as a player to be better, what can you do as a coach to be better and it’s a group effort. I think the good teams do a hard look at what they’ve done during the year in the offseason, and that’s what we have to do and really see what we can improve at.’’
Even quarterback Baker Mayfield, who flourished under Kitchens in the final eight games of last season but regressed this year, declined to give him a vote of confidence during the week.
“It’s not my decision,’’ Mayfield said. “Whatever happens, happens.’’
Kitchens job probably wasn’t riding on the Bengals game, but losing to a 1-14 team certainly didn’t help him.
He also lost all of the big games he needed to win this season, including those at Pittsburgh and Arizona, and last week’s 31-15 loss at home to the Ravens.
Struggling with play calling all season, Kitchens saw his Browns lose to backup quarterbacks the likes of Denver’s Brandon Allen and Pittsburgh’s Duck Hodges.
Mayfield completed 12-of-27 attempts for 279 yards with three TDs and 3 INTs for a 79.6 rating.
Beckham, who went over 1,000 yards for the season, caught three passes for 81 yards and a TD, and Jarvis Landry caught two for 82 and a TD.
Bengals running back Joe Mixon topped his performance from the last game, rushing 26 times for 162 yards and two TDs.
Browns running back Nick Chubb was held to 41 yards on 13 carries, and Mayfield was sacked a season-high six times.
Beckham goes over 1,000
Beckham, who fought through an illness and groin injury, went over 1,000 yards on a 25-yard catch in the fourth quarter, but then walked to the sidelines, tossed his helmet down, sat down and put a towel over his head. But he was back in the game a few plays later.
Beckham came down with the illness on Friday, which may have been food poisoning. But he’s gutted it out all season on the groin injury, and wasn’t about to miss a chance to go over 1,000, his fifth 1,000-yard season in six.
Bengals put game out of reach
The Bengals increased their lead to 23-16 on a 47-yard field goal by Randy Bullock with 9:04 left in the third, and then Mayfield was picked off for the second time in the game by cornerback Darius Phillips on an overthrown deep ball intended for Beckham.
The Bengals got no points off that second pick because Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton returned the favor with an interception of his own, by Denzel Ward in the end zone.
But they made up for it with a 2-yard run by Joe Mixon that made it 30-16 with 14:16 left in the game.
The Browns trailed the Bengals 20-16 after allowing three straight touchdowns and then recovering with a 56-yard touchdown catch by Landry.
The Browns opened the scoring with a 46-yard pass from Mayfield to Damion Ratley to make it 7-0 with 13:32 left in the quarter. The Browns started at their 44 after a 47-yard kickoff return by D’Ernest Johnson, and needed only three plays to find the end zone.
But the Bengals stormed back with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to tight end C.J. Uzomah to tie it at 7. The score was set up by a 41-yard blast by Joe Mixon, who had gashed the Browns for 146 yards in the first meeting.
With 4:45 left in the first quarter, Mixon plowed in from the 3 to make it 13-7, and kicker Randy Bullock missed the extra point. The score cashed in on Mayfield’s 19th interception of the season, by cornerback Darius Phillips on a pass intended for Landry.
Dalton scrambled 5 yards for a TD to the left to extended the Bengals’ lead to 20-7 after completing some nice passes on the drive, including a 22-yarder to Tyler Boyd on third and 14.
The Browns picked up the pace and moved the ball on the ensuing drive, with Mayfield hitting Landry for 26 yards and then Beckham for 36 to the Bengals’ 17. But like they’ve done most of the season, the Browns stalled in the red zone and had to settle for a 42-yard Austin Seibert field goal that cut the deficit to 20-10 with 6:53 left in the half. Mayfield was sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down to spoil the drive.
But the defense stiffened, and the Browns made the halftime score respectable with the 56-yard TD pass to Landry, who got behind the defense over the middle.
Unfortunately for the Browns, Seibert missed the extra point to keep the score at 20-16 with 1:52 left in the half. It marked the second week in a row Seibert missed a conversion attempt.
That’s all folks.