CLEVELAND — Robert Griffin III returned from injury but couldn’t keep Cleveland from falling closer to infamy as the Cincinnati Bengals built a big early lead and held off the winless Browns 23-10 on Sunday in the snow.
Andy Dalton threw two touchdown passes to Tyler Eifert as the Bengals (5-7-1) kept their playoff chances pulsating for another week.
Griffin started for the first time since getting hurt in the opener. He couldn’t produce a win for the Browns (0-13).
RG3 did score on a 1-yard sneak in the third quarter, but the Browns lost their 16th straight dating to Dec. 13 last season. Cleveland has lost 23 of 24 and 31 of 34 since the end of 2014.
The Browns have three games left to avoid joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the NFL’s only 0-16 teams.
Griffin finished 12 of 28 for 104 yards. Isaiah Crowell was a bright spot for Cleveland, rushing for 113 yards on 10 carries.
Dalton, who has had some of his best games against Cleveland, connected twice in the first half with Eifert as the Bengals bullied the NFL’s worst team for 30 minutes.
The Browns battled back in the second half, getting within 10 in the fourth period before Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent kicked a 44-yard field goal with 8:38 left.
Cincinnati has some work to do and needs plenty of help to make the postseason for the sixth straight year. The Bengals entered Sunday 2 1/2 games behind Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the AFC North, and another loss would finish off them.
For the Browns, the 2016 season can’t end soon enough.
The Browns had another moment to symbolize their lost season when their “Brownie The Elf” mascot slippedon the sideline and fell while trying to retrieve a ball that bounced out of bounds following a punt.
Even without star wide receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals sucked the life out of the Browns and any strong-stomached Cleveland fans willing to brave the cold in this calamitous season by scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter.
Cincinnati took the opening kickoff and drove 73 yards as Dalton connected with Eifert for a 14-yard TD. After the Browns punted, Jeremy Hill’s 1-yard plunge capped Cincinnati’s second possession to make it 13-0 — Nugent’s extra point was blocked — and it became very clear the Bengals had not overlooked the Browns, who were coming off their bye week and were as healthy as they’ve been all season.
Dalton’s second TD to Eifert, a 5-yard pass on third down, put the Bengals up 20-0.
Meanwhile, the Browns did little right. They committed two penalties on their first series and Griffin forced a deep pass on a flea-flicker into triple coverage that was picked off.
He finished the opening half with a 0.00 passer rating — another row of zeroes for the Browns.
The Browns are making history with every loss. They are the seventh team since 1962 to start 0-13, joining the ’08 Lions, 1980 Saints, 1976 Buccaneers, 2011 Colts, 2007 Dolphins and 1962 Raiders.
Nugent’s accuracy remains a major issue. The 11-year veteran missed another PAT, his sixth this season, in the first quarter.
The snap appeared low and Nugent kicked the ball into the back of Cincinnati’s line. The Browns recovered and made several laterals during an entertaining attempt at a failed 2-point defensive conversion.
Nugent later missed a 36-yard field goal attempt and is 23 of 29.
The Browns will play in London next season, the team’s first visit to England since playing an exhibition game there in 1989.
The NFL has increased its commitment to the United Kingdom’s market and will have four games in London next season. It’s not known yet if the Browns will be giving up a home game to make the trip.
A league spokesman said an official announcement will be made Tuesday.