CINCINNATI — Browns tight end David Njoku believes he can fly.
On Sunday, he was wrong, but his teammates bailed him out in a 35-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
"I've seen a bunch of wacky stuff," Njoku said, "but I was never thrown into the end zone by my teammates."
Well, there's a first time for everything.
On second-and-goal at the Bengals 6-yard line, Njoku caught a screen pass from rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield and leaped when he reached the 5. Bengals safety Jessie Bates initially stopped Njoku, but center JC Tretter, right guard Kevin Zeitler and running back Duke Johnson pushed Njoku into the end zone to finish a 12-play, 96-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown, allowing the Browns to build a 21-0 lead with 9:18 left in the second quarter.
"Njoku, for some reason, thinks he can fly, and every game somebody has to remind him that he cannot fly," Johnson said.
Browns defensive end Chris Smith added, "Yeah, [Njoku] thinks he can fly. He thinks he's fly, too.
"He tried to fly a little bit. He tried to take off, spread his wings or whatever. We're going to talk about that. I can't wait to watch that on film.
"I said, 'What got into him?' I was like, 'Good gracious, man.' At first, I thought, 'All right. Just protect the ball.' "
Njoku, a national champion in the high jump as a high school senior, admitted leaving his feet during the play wasn't the best idea.
"I don't know why my mind thinks the way it thinks sometimes," said Njoku, who had five catches on five targets for 63 yards and a TD. "It happened, and I owe it all to my teammates for that touchdown.
"It was all their instinct to push me in because I was not going to go in without them."
After he reached the end zone, Njoku handed the ball to left guard Joel Bitonio and instructed him to execute the tight end's customary touchdown celebration. So Bitonio jumped and slammed the ball down.
"I was going to do the big man spike, but he said, 'Chief Slam,' " Bitonio said. "I was like, ‘I can’t let him down now.' He handed me the ball. I tried to do it like I remembered it."
Reception for redemption
Rookie running back Nick Chubb scored his second touchdown of the game when he reached over safety Brandon Wilson and made a circus catch in the front left corner of the end zone. The 14-yard touchdown reception from Mayfield wrapped up an 11-play, 59-yard drive and put the Browns ahead 28-0 with 2:25 left in the second quarter.
Interim coach Gregg Williams said Chubb has showed off his hands in practice.
"I haven’t done that in practice — not in that way," Chubb said. "Yeah, it was a great catch. I just locked onto the ball, I saw it and just got my hands on it."
Mayfield revealed Chubb redeemed himself with the catch.
"He was snoring very, very loudly last night," Mayfield said. "We're roommates on the road and at home, so he made up for it. He made up for the snoring with that catch. That was an unbelievable catch."
"I didn't give him a very good chance to catch that. I put it in a bad spot. I've got to lead him. He beat the guy. They brought a blitz, and the guy had to peel and cover with him. So he did a good job of winning and then obviously a great job finishing."
Chubb also rushed for a 1-yard score as the Browns earned a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time this season and took a 7-0 lead with 9:11 left in the first quarter.
A second-round draft pick, Chubb finished with 84 yards and a TD on 28 carries (3.0 average) and three catches on three targets for 44 yards and a TD. He became the first player in franchise history to record a rushing and receiving touchdown in consecutive games.
Former Browns coach Hue Jackson greeted several members of Cleveland's organization during pregame warm-ups and briefly shook hands with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.
But the most interesting interaction Jackson had before the game was with Browns strong safety Jabrill Peppers. At one point, Peppers approached Jackson, and the coach pointed toward the opposite direction as if he were telling Peppers to go warm up with the Browns.
Peppers explained he had been talking trash with some Bengals players when Jackson tried to play the role of mediator.
"Oh, yeah, there was definitely some smack talk with Hue," Peppers said. "There definitely was because he was our coach. He knows us. I just said, ‘Coach, you know me. I talk with my pads.' He kind of just chuckled."
Former Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians doubled down on his interest in coaching the Browns and told NFL.com he would keep Freddie Kitchens as his offensive coordinator if he were chosen for the job.
Arians first entertained the possibility of coming out of retirement to coach the Browns three weeks ago when he told the Canton Repository and GateHouse Media Ohio, “Cleveland is the only job I would consider.”
In an interview with NFL.com for a story published Sunday on the league’s website, Arians said, “I would listen to the Browns and only them.” He also said his wife would support his return to coaching.
Kitchens coached quarterbacks and running backs under Arians in Arizona. After Arians announced his retirement Jan. 1, Kitchens joined the Browns as a running backs coach/associate head coach. He was promoted to offensive coordinator after the organization fired Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Oct. 29.
Arians also told NFL.com he would consider keeping Williams as defensive coordinator.
The Browns did their part in terms of staying on the fringes of the race for the AFC's second wild-card spot.
If they follow up a win at Cincinnati with a victory at Houston, they will be 5-6-1, looking for help.
Aside from the 4-6-1 Browns and 5-6 Bengals, the primary contenders for the second wild-card spot are:
• Baltimore Ravens, 6-5 after beating the Oakland Raiders (at Atlanta next Sunday)
• Indianapolis Colts, 6-5 after beating the Miami Dolphins (at Jacksonville next Sunday)
• Tennessee Titans, 5-5 heading into Monday night's game at Houston (home to the New York Jets next Sunday)
• Denver Broncos 5-6 after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers (at Cincinnati next Sunday)
• Dolphins, 5-6 after losing at Indianapolis (home to the Buffalo Bills next Sunday)
The Browns' remaining opponents are Texans, Carolina Panthers, Broncos, Bengals and Ravens.
— Steve Doerschuk
Bengals starting quarterback Andy Dalton suffered a right thumb injury on an errant shotgun snap. The Browns took over at the Cincinnati 7 after defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah recovered the fumble and scored two plays later when Mayfield connected with tight end Darren Fells for a 6-yard touchdown with 12:56 left in the third quarter.
Dalton did not return to the game.
"On first look," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, "it's not [season-ending], but they're going to do further tests."
The Browns actually struggled against replacement Jeff Driskel, a sixth-round pick out of Louisiana Tech in 2016. It was 35-7 when Driskel took over, and 35-20 after he directed touchdown drives of 75 and 94 yards.
— Steve Doerschuk
• Defensive end Myles Garrett recorded one sack to increase his team-leading season total to 10, which is tied for the most by a Browns player through the first 12 weeks of a season. He also recorded his first career blocked field goal when Randy Bullock attempted a 54-yarder on the Bengals' first possession.
• Rookie wide receiver Antonio Callaway had four receptions on five targets for 62 yards and one touchdown. His 13-yard TD catch gave the Browns a 14-0 lead with 1:37 left in the first quarter.
• The Browns had one interception (by free safety Damarious Randall) and one fumble recovery (by Ogbah) to increase their takeaway total to 27 this season, their most through 12 weeks since they had 31 in 2001.
• Veteran left tackle Greg Robinson started for the third consecutive game. Undrafted rookie left tackle Desmond Harrison, who started the first eight games of the season, was a healthy scratch.
• The Browns won back-to-back games by double digits for the first time since 2013.
• The Browns didn't allow a sack in consecutive games for the first time since 2007.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.