Coming out of Notre Dame as a first-round pick, buried behind Jermaine Gresham and an army of wide receivers, Tyler Eifert didn't figure into many of Cincinnati's gameplans during his rookie campaign. With his entire 2014 season spent injured, Eifert's most significant contribution prior to today was a 66-yard effort against Pittsburgh in 2013. Entering Sunday's game against the Raiders, Eifert had only scored two touchdowns in his career.
He quickly scored two this afternoon and now, he has four.
During Cincinnati's 33-13 win over the Oakland Raiders, Eifert generated a team-high 104 yards receiving with a pair of touchdowns that, for all intents and purposes, sealed Cincinnati's first franchise win in Oakland. What's more, both touchdowns highlighted the physical and athletic advantage he holds over defensive backs tasked with covering him.
With 12 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Eifert ran a vertical with Andy Dalton leading him into the endone. Eifert easily snagged the football over defensive back Neiko Thorpe, expanding Cincinnati's lead to 24-0. Clearly, Cincinnati expected Eifert to become one of the team's great weapons this season. He became that, securing 96 yards receiving... in the first half.
"We knew that we were going to have some chances with some of the looks that we were getting and he was in the right spot, right time and he made some really good plays for us," said Dalton. "It’s what we expect from him. That’s what we missed on last year, but just happy to have him back."
After a pair of punts and an explosive Giovani Bernard sprint to the nine-yard line, Eifert fought through serviceable coverage over D.J. Hayden, capturing his second touchdown of the afternoon and giving the Bengals a commanding 30-0 lead with 3:45 remaining in the third. "We have size advantage," said Dalton following the win. "(Hayden) wasn’t looking. Tyler was able to make a really good catch. That’s the matchup that we wanted."
At the end of the day, Eifert finished with 104 yards receiving. According to ESPN Stats and Info department, Eifert is only the third Bengals player in franchise history with 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns during the season opener (A.J. Green, 2013 and Eric Crabtree, 1969).
"He’s a great weapon to have, he does a nice job with the run game and a good job receiving the football," said head coach marvin Lewis. "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 road has 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 IR with a designation to return, 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. The third-year tight end reiterated on Thursday that his elbow and shoulder are 100 percent healthy.
Now that's all behind him.
"It’s been a lot of hard work coming back," Eifert said following Sunday's game. "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."