(Reuters) - The Cleveland Browns maintained their surprising push for a playoff berth with a dominant 24-3 road win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday to climb into a rare share of first place in the division.
The Browns controlled the game on the ground and intercepted Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton three times to join Pittsburgh at the top of the AFC North.
Cleveland (6-3) has not been in first place this late in the season since 1986 and took another step toward a first playoff berth since 2002 by knocking Cincinnati out of the lead.
“This is a new team, new Browns,” said Cleveland cornerback Buster Skrine, who hauled in two interceptions. “We hear it every week: ‘the surprise Browns.’ We’re not a surprise anymore. We proved we’re a solid team.”
The Browns got touchdowns from running backs Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, who paced the attack with 94 rushing yards.
Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer tossed for just 198 yards but made key completions that set up points for the road team.
A Dalton interception led to Cleveland’s opening score, a four-yard run by Tate, and they built on the lead with 10 points in the second quarter and a third-quarter score from West.
The Bengals (5-3-1), meanwhile, managed just 165 total yards on the night.
It was a disastrous game for Dalton who completed just 10-of-33 passes for 86 yards in the cold and windy conditions.
“I missed a couple early and could never get into a rhythm,” Dalton said. “We didn’t start fast and that’s on me.”
Cincinnati played a second straight game without top running back Giovani Bernard, out with injury. Rookie running back Jeremy Hill was not as spectacular as he was in last week’s spot start, and managed 55 yards on the ground.
Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien