Nearly two minutes remained in the third quarter of the Bengals' Week 6 game in Buffalo.
Center Russell Bodine white-knuckle gripped the football with his right hand, artistically repositioning the nose on the Bills three-yard line. Tight end Tyler Eifert, initially outside Andre Smith's right shoulder, jogged toward the sideline, stopping five yards short.
Meanwhile, it was clear Cincinnati applied a Jumbo package. Rookie tackle Jake Fisher played the three-point stance outside Andrew Whitworth's left shoulder. Tyler Kroft played off the line of scrimmage with Ryan Hewitt and Jeremy Hill in the backfield. Shockingly, Andy Dalton approached the line to take a snap under center.
Buffalo reacted similarly, compressing the box with 10 defenders while offloading safety Bacarri Rambo, who covered Eifert.
It wasn't even close.
After securing his third step, Dalton casually targeted the front right pylon. Eifert, who has a six-inch height advantage over Rambo, easily secured the football without much obstruction and zero interference, giving the Bengals a sweet 17-point advantage as Cincinnati cruised to a 33-21 win over the Bills. The score was Eifert's league-leading sixth receiving touchdown. Eifert also has the highest redzone target to touchdown percentage with six receptions on nine targets, all of which led to touchdowns. (It really should be seven, but let's not get into that, again.)
What Eifert has done this season is nothing short of amazing.
Following Cincinnati's win over the Bills, Eifert was tied for the league-lead with six touchdowns; he was also one of two players with six combined touchdowns in the AFC. The other? Running back Jeremy Hill. Eifert is on pace to rewrite Cincinnati's record books for receptions, yards, and touchdowns among any tight end in franchise history.
"Arguably, Tyler's the best tight end I've ever been around," says offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. "He's physically tougher than people think — he's tough as nails. He blocks better than people think, and of course he can catch the ball with anybody. Great hands, and great moves and speed for a guy his size. The sky truly is the limit for this guy."
Generic statistics are one thing. However, the timing of his scores have led to significant moments this season. Eifert's touchdown against the Chargers gave Cincinnati a two-possession advantage with 8:49 remaining in the fourth quarter; the Bengals won 24-19. His second touchdown against the Seahawks initiated a 17-point fourth quarter comeback, leading to a 27-24 overtime win over Seattle -- it was an identical play to one called earlier in the game that also led to a touchdown.
"Through the game," Jackson said via Peter King's MMQB, "I could see the adjustment hadn't been made by Seattle. I don't call the same play down there very often at all. But I saw something, and so we called it again." Eifert's touchdown with 12:18 remaining against the Seahawks, reduced Cincinnati's deficit to 10 points and set the stage for an improbable comeback against a notoriously strong defense (at least one we had thought was strong at the time).
It's not just the touchdowns either.
According to the NFL, of Eifert's 28 receptions, 21 have led to first downs. A perfect example of his size and speed occurred in Week 1 against the Chargers on a third down reception against Jason Verrett.
Here's another example, a touchdown reception, using quickness and speed, over Brandon Flowers of the Chargers.
As Cincinnati heads into a significant division contest against Pittsburgh, Eifert remains second on the team in receptions (28), yards receiving (342) and touchdowns (6). The Steelers, who recently suffered a 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, defended against Travis Kelce, who secured five receptions for 73 yards receiving. According to ESPN, Pittsburgh has allowed five touchdowns to tight ends this season, squaring off against names like the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and the Chargers' Antonio Gates.
"When a tight end is their favorite receiver, we gotta make sure we minimize him getting the ball," Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree said via ESPN. "We started to do that too late. We started to chip him a little too late after he got into his rhythm. We should have done that from the start. We just have to see that while we're in the game."
Speaking on Eifert following the team's Week 1 win, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said, "He's a great weapon to have, he does a nice job with the run game and a good job receiving the football. He's good in match-ups that way. He makes the things go, if they rotate coverage one-way or another. You got guys who can win match-ups. A big, tall guy is what football comes to. We have big long guys, and big long guys have opportunities to make plays and put the ball where it belongs."
Eifert's first few seasons in the league have been complicated, suffering two major injuries and spending significant time rehabilitating to return from both. Safety George Iloka landed on Eifert's shoulder during OTAs last season, tearing his labrum. Eventually he recovered for the regular season opener against Baltimore. Eight plays into the season, Eifert dislocated his elbow and, despite being on Injured Reserve with a designation to return, Eifert never returned to the field last year.
In addition to losing 15 pounds of muscle last season, Eifert underwent surgery to repair his shoulder and elbow. Eventually, Cincinnati eased Eifert, who had regained most of the weight he lost, onto the practice field after being cleared for OTA practices in May.
Now that's all behind him.
"It's been a lot of hard work coming back," Eifert said following Cincinnati's 33-13 win over the Raiders. "To go out there and have a great game and help our team win was great. So we just have to keep going. This is only week 1. So let's just keep getting better."
In the past two months, Eifert has done exactly that. Now he just wants to help quarterback Andy Dalton succeed.
"I want to be someone Andy (Dalton) can trust," Eifert said earlier this year. "I want it to be where we're on the same page. Even if I'm not open, go on and put the ball up, and I'll go make the play. There are some really good tight ends in the league, and when it comes down to it, their quarterback trusts them. If it's third-and-8, the quarterback is locked on them and has trusted they're going to get open. My goal? To be the best tight end in the league. That's what you shoot for. Keep doing my job, stay healthy and everything will take care of itself."