By Joe Kay
AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI — A lopsided victory over a winless team has given the Cincinnati Bengals a sense that their season has finally turned.
The defending AFC North champions are back in the race after beating the intrastate rival Cleveland Browns 31-17 on Sunday in their best all-around showing of the season. Up next is the franchise’s first trip to London to play Washington.
The Bengals (3-4) looked more like a contender against Cleveland (0-7). The offense piled up 559 yards, Cincinnati’s best showing since 1990. Jeremy Hill ran for 168 yards and A.J. Green had 169 yards in catches, the first time in franchise history that a receiver and running back each had so many yards in a game.
After struggling all season to score points, the Bengals pulled off one big play after another, including three touchdowns of more than 40 yards.
“When you put bad things on (game) film over and over, it kind of becomes what people expect from you, and that’s exactly the opposite of what we expect,” Hill said Monday. “What we expect is what we did out there on Sunday. So we’ve just got to continue to put performances like that together, string them together, and build the confidence we need going down the stretch for us.”
The Steelers (4-3) and Ravens (3-4) lost on Sunday, leaving the Bengals only a game back in the injury-depleted division. Cincinnati is the only team that has been able to avoid significant injury.
The last missing piece of the offense was back in a limited role on Sunday. Tight end Tyler Eifert got into a game for the first time since ankle surgery in the offseason. He was on the field for 15 plays, and the Bengals plan to move him into a bigger role each week.
Eifert set a club record for tight ends with 13 touchdown catches last season. The offense was complete with him back for third-down and goal-line plays. Cincinnati hadn’t scored so many points since a 37-3 win in Cleveland last December.
“That was good to help us get back on the right track,” Eifert said.
The defense still has some issues. The Browns were down to their sixth quarterback after Cody Kessler got a concussion in the second quarter. Undrafted rookie Kevin Hogan made his debut and ran for a team-high 104 yards and a touchdown. Cleveland rushed for 180 yards overall against a defense that got flattened by Dallas two weeks earlier.
The Bengals gave up the second-fewest points in the NFL last season. After Sundays’ game, they were tied with Washington for 18th in points allowed.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said that once the Bengals adjusted to the change to a running quarterback, they played closer to expectations.
“I think if we continue to move in that direction, we’ll be back,” Guenther said. “At the end of the year we’ll be right where we were a year ago. We’re just doing it the hard way this year.”
NOTES: RT Cedric Ogbuehi, who was benched during a loss at New England a week ago, was in for 51 plays against the Browns. Eric Winston took his spot for 10 plays, giving the first-year starter a break. “Now you step back and have an opportunity to take a deep breath, then go back in and finish it out,” coach Marvin Lewis said. He declined to say if he’d continue to give Ogbuehi a rest during games. … LT Andrew Whitworth should be out of the concussion protocol by Thursday, Lewis said. He left in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game.