2016 has certainly not started out the way Bengals Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert had hoped for. But after making his 2016 season debut in Week 7, Eifert now has a little more than half the season remaining to make up for lost time.
After seeing minimal action in his first Pro Bowl appearance back in January, a well-deserved honor after leading all NFL tight ends in touchdowns in 2015, Eifert was injured in the All-Star game’s closing quarter. The injury led to a bumpy road to recovery, filled with ups, but mostly downs. And after a long offseason of surgery and rehabilitation, and another injury, and further rehabilitation, Eifert made his long-awaited return to the football field on Sunday in the Bengals’ win over the Browns at Paul Brown Stadium.
Eifert was targeted twice and hauled in one catch for 9 yards. It wasn't much to write home about, but just getting back on the field was a huge win for Eifert and the Bengals.
His first target came in the first quarter on a 2nd-and-18 play, and went incomplete. That helped lead to a Mike Nugent 40-yard field goal, which he missed, nullifying a 56-yard drive for Cincinnati.
Eifert was targeted once more in the second quarter on a first and 10 play which he picked up 9 yards on. A few plays later, Andy Dalton threw a Hail Mary to the end zone, which A.J. Green caught, giving the Bengals a 21-10 lead after the Nugent extra point, right before halftime.
Interestingly, neither of those plays came in the red zone or on third down, which are the situations Eifert said he expected to play in on Sunday.
“There wasn’t really a snap count, there were just certain situations I was going to be in on,” Eifert said after the Bengals’ win. “Third down and red zone.”
The Bengals didn’t need Eifert to have much of an impact to beat the now 0-7 Browns. But, they certainly will need him more as the year progresses, and the plan will be for him to get more involved next week when the Bengals travel to London to take on Washington.
“It’s great to have him back. We were slowly working him back in today, and anytime you get a guy like that for your offense that’s a big piece,” Dalton said after the game. “He’s going to help us out.”
That’s certainly the hope and everyone knows it. The Bengals have been lacking a big-time red zone target and Eifert was that go-to player in 2015, his breakout year. Now in his third season, the sky is the limit for Eifert, assuming he can stay healthy.
“I hope he can help us in the red zone,” A.J. Green said of his teammate. “When Tyler comes back, that’s 13 touchdowns we’re missing. It’s good to get him back.”
For Eifert, it was good to be back on the field, even when he was getting tackled.
“Just running around, getting hit, hitting people. It felt good out there,” he said. “I didn’t take a whole lot of snaps. But I was happy to be out there and helping where I can.”
Now that Eifert is back, the Bengals will be planning for him to contribute heavily on offense, especially in the red zone, and help the Bengals get back to their high-scoring ways. After seeing what C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Kroft are capable of during Eifert’s time off-the-field, some two tight end sets could be in the works in the coming weeks, too.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re playing or where you’re at, it’s hard to win games.” Eifert said on Sunday. “That was good to help us get back on the right track.”