CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns took Ja’Marr Chase’s trash talk personally.
Joe Burrow paid for it.
Deshaun Watson ran for a touchdown and threw for another, and Cleveland’s defense bottled up Burrow — the NFL’s new highest-paid player — as the Browns opened the season with a 24-3 win over the Bengals on Sunday.
Fueled by Chase dismissing them as “elves” earlier in the week, the Browns harassed Burrow from the start and won an opener at home for the first time since 2004.
“They wanted to prove a point,” Watson said of Cleveland’s defense. “So I know they handled what they needed to handle. Those guys are fired up. They bring the swagger. They bring the energy, and I think we’ve seen that today.”
Chase, who finished with five catches for 39 yards, didn’t take back his inflammatory comments.
In fact, he doubled down.
“I’m mad because I called their (butts) elves, and we just lost to some elves,” Chase said. “I’m pissed on my part. (Expletive), I’m holding it on me.”
Watson bolted for a 13-yard TD late in the first half, making the kind of dynamic play the Browns envisioned when they signed him to a $230 million contract in 2022. He missed 11 games last season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
Watson is in uniform from the start this season, and his presence has Cleveland expecting big things.
He added a 3-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter to tight end Harrison Bryant, and Watson celebrated by skipping down the field in front of Cincinnati’s sideline before converting the 2-point try with a run up the middle.
Cleveland’s Nick Chubb rushed 106 yards on 18 carries.
“He’s the best in the world,” Watson said of the Browns’ star back. “Best in the league and he’s going to continue to plug.”
Burrow had a rough opener, two days after signing a five-year, $275 million extension — giving him the highest average annual salary in league history. The Browns held Burrow to a career-worst 82 yards passing (14 of 31) as Cleveland’s rebuilt defensive line pressured him all day.
“It’s tough,” Burrow said. “It’s one week, not up to our standard, not up to my standard. We’ll keep trucking.”
The Bengals were out of sync, perhaps the result of Burrow being sidelined for more than a month with a calf strain.
“That’s what happens when your quarterback doesn’t perform in training camp,” said Burrow, who was sacked just twice but rushed numerous throws. “That’s something I wish I could have done. We had miscommunication here and there.”
Myles Garrett sacked Burrow on fourth down with 10:27 left to help seal Cleveland’s stunningly easy win over the AFC North champions. The Browns forced the Bengals to punt 10 times in 14 possessions.
The Bengals pulled Burrow with 5:15 left, and he spent the remainder of the game watching with his arms folded on the bench.
Dustin Hopkins kicked three field goals — from 42, 34 and 43 yards — in his debut for the Browns, who traded for him last month after cutting Cade York.
The 100th “Battle of Ohio” was short on memorable moments, but Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski improved to 6-1 against the Browns’ in-state rival.
Watson’s scoring run on a perfectly designed draw play put the Browns up 10-0 at the end of a sloppy first half in which the teams combined to punt 11 times.
Out of timeouts, the Browns overloaded the right side before Watson took the snap and sprinted left for the end zone, getting a seal block from wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt celebrated with a big hug after the QB crossed the goal line. Stefanski credited Van Pelt for adding the play on Saturday, and Watson said he checked out of a pass before the run.
“Awesome play,” Watson said. “Awesome call.”
Burrow wasn’t as mobile as usual due to the calf issues, and the misty, wet weather didn’t help him either as he struggled to get a good grip in the first half before putting on a glove.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor, who dropped to 0-5 against Cleveland, said the conditions altered the game plan.
“Immediately, it was a different game than we’ve had to play in a long, long time with the rain,” he said. “They did a great job managing the conditions.”
The Browns honored the late Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown throughout the home opener. Brown, the leading rusher in team history, died in May at age 87.
Chubb led the Browns onto the field carrying a flag bearing Brown’s No. 32. He ran to the other end zone and handed it to Brown’s son, Aris.
Cleveland’s players are wearing a 32 patch on their jerseys this season and his number is also painted on both sidelines.
Browns: RT Jack Conklin could be done for the season after being carted off in the second quarter with a left knee injury. Conklin, who signed a four-year contract extension in December, was replaced by rookie Dawand Jones.
“Doesn’t look good,” Stefanski said. “I feel absolutely awful for Jack, the person he is, the player that he is, and what he means to this team. You absolutely hate to see those things on guys that are such a big part of what we are.”
Bengals: Stay inside the AFC North, hosting Baltimore next Sunday.
Browns: A Monday night trip to Pittsburgh to play the rival Steelers on Sept. 18.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl