The Bengals ran into a desperate team. If they're not careful, they may become one themselves.
Outplayed in the second half by a Cleveland team that hadn't won in nearly a year, Cincinnati made costly turnovers and lost its second straight, 34-24 to the Browns on Sunday.
Andy Dalton threw three touchdown passes but also three interceptions, including one that was returned 19 yards for a TD by Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown in the fourth quarter.
"We did a lot of very good things, but you turn the ball over and you are going to lose," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "We need to play nasty. We are almost too nice. We need more of a killer instinct. We were not good enough in all three phases."
Cincinnati led 14-7 at halftime, but for the second week in a row, the Bengals (3-3) couldn't close the deal and the Browns snapped an 11-game losing streak that dated to November.
"We're just not clicking," said wide receiver A.J. Green, who caught two TD passes. "We're not putting all the pieces together. We're a winning football team. That means some guy is not doing their job."
The Bengals had 215 total yards at halftime, but they didn't really get rolling on offense in the second half until it was too late.
Cincinnati had its chances, but a dropped ball here, special teams break downs and an inability to run the ball against a Cleveland defense that gave up 243 rushing yards last week doomed the Bengals, who will host the Pittsburgh Steelers next week and play their next three at home.
Dalton finished 31 of 46 for 381 yards with three TDs and three interceptions.
"We feel like we gave two games away," said Dalton, referring to last week's loss to Miami. "I wouldn't say we're too nice. We just have to find that edge."
Lewis went further, saying the Bengals don't know how to put an opponent away.
"We have got to play nastier. We need to play tougher," Lewis said. "We need to have more of a killer instinct."
It's the second time the Browns have ended their franchise record losing streak against the Bengals. When Cleveland last lost 11 in a row, the Browns stopped their slide with a win at home over Cincinnati in 1975.
"It was fun to see guys jumping around and happy," said Browns kicker Phil Dawson, who has been with Cleveland since 1999. "They never had that feeling before and it was great to see."
Rookie Brandon Weeden threw two touchdown passes on his 29th birthday and cornerback Joe Haden sparked Cleveland's defense with his return from a suspension to lead the Browns (1-5).
"A big weight was lifted off our shoulders," said Haden, who intercepted a pass by Dalton in third quarter to set up a field goal. "It felt like we won the Super Bowl. We just didn't give up."
Montario Hardesty, filling in for injured rookie Trent Richardson, scored on a 1-yard plunge as the Browns outscored the Bengals in the second half 27-10.
It was the first win in nine tries against an AFC North opponent for second-year Browns coach Pat Shurmur. The victory also closed Randy Lerner's tenure as Cleveland's majority owner. His sale to Haslam for $1 billion is expected to be approved by the league's owners on Tuesday.
The Browns hadn't been able to put together a complete game under Shurmur. There were still some major flaws, but one of the NFL's youngest teams did some growing up and took some of the pressure off Shurmur, who needed a win to impress Haslam, the truck-stop magnate and a former minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With the Browns leading 27-17 after Weeden's 3-yard TD pass to Benjamin Watson, Brown stepped in front of Brandon Tate, picked the ball off and ran it all the way back as Cleveland fans rocked Browns Stadium as it hadn't been in years.
Weeden went 17 of 29 for 231 yards and found rookie Josh Gordon for a 71-yard TD in the second quarter. Hardesty's 1-yard TD dive on the first play of the fourth quarter gave the Browns, who trailed 14-7 at halftime, their first lead at 20-14.
Hardesty was in for Richardson, who took a helmet to the side early in the game. He finished with just 37 yards on 14 carries.
The Bengals made it 20-17 on Mike Nugent's 44-yard field goal with 11:11 left.
After throwing the pick to Brown, Dalton connected with Green for a 57-yard with 5:21 left. Cincinnati got the ball back and was driving again when Dalton was sacked and stripped by Emmanuel Stephens. Browns rookie Billy Winn recovered it and rumbled 35 yards into Cincinnati territory, sending Cleveland fans into delirium.
"Make better football plays," Lewis said. "That's what we need. I don't think it matter who we play. It just matters what we do. It's about us."
NOTES: Green finished with 7 catches for 135 yards. His 108 catches and 13 TDs are the most by any player in NFL history through his first 21 games. ... Bengals RB Brian Leonard left in the second half with a rib injury. .... After giving up 243 yards rushing last week the Browns held the Bengals to 76 on 20 carries. ... Cleveland's 21-point fourth quarter was the club's largest final quarter since 2002.