All signs pointed to a lost season for Tyler Boyd. And then they didn’t.
Boyd’s rookie season of 2016 could only be called promising. He had the most catches of any first-year receiver not named A.J. Green with 54, and his 603 yards trailed only Green and Brandon LaFell.
But then came 2017, and something was not right. Boyd had one catch on four targets in the season-opening loss to Baltimore. Then he got benched in the Thursday night game against Houston. The following week, he was targeted one time against Green Bay and had one reception.
Boyd had two receptions against both Cleveland and Buffalo, but then he suffered a knee injury that would sideline him for a month. Then word leaked out that he had been charged with “possession of THC and not being registered to have a controlled substance,” following an incident that had occurred in July.
Boyd would not see the field again until November 19, when he had a single reception on one target in a Bengals’ win at Denver. But his coaches still believed the former second-round pick out of Pittsburgh had what it took to have a successful pro career.
You could not tell it by the results. Over the next three weeks, Boyd had a total of five catches on nine targets for 47 yards. His lone touchdown of the season came against Cleveland in Week 12. Then, against Minnesota, Boyd got benched again.
Boyd was slipping down the depth chart and becoming an afterthought on a Bengals’ offense that was not exactly tearing up the league.
To his credit, Boyd did not complain. He did not become a distraction. He just kept working, trusting in his abilities.
And, against Detroit, Boyd finally got his chance. He responded with five receptions on six targets for 39 yards. He was finally the possession receiver everyone knew he could, and should, be. Two of his receptions went for first downs. Another set up a touchdown that put the Bengals up for the first time.
It was just a glimpse of things to come.
Against Baltimore on Sunday, Boyd was everything the Bengals hoped he would be. He was targeted four times in the first half, and had three receptions. All three of his catches (9, 6 and 18 yards) resulted in first downs.
For a variety of reasons, the Bengals’ passing attack lay dormant for much of the second half. Then came the final drive.
Cincinnati took over at its own 10-yard-line with 2:43 left. With 2:37 to go, Andy Dalton found Boyd on the left sideline for a 9-yard reception and another first down. Dalton looked for him again, this time along the right sideline, with just over two minutes left, but the pass fell incomplete.
The Bengals moved the ball to Baltimore’s 49-yard-line, but faced a fourth-and-12 with just 44 seconds remaining. Cincinnati came out with three receivers to the right side of the formation, with Green by himself on the left.
Boyd ran straight down the field, and found a soft spot in the Ravens’ zone. Dalton lofted a pass just over the outstretched hands of a leaping C.J. Mosley and right into the belly of Boyd at about the 23-yard-line. Boyd sidestepped the attempted tackle of Maurice Canady and raced into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
“We have a lot of great guys out there who could have gotten the ball,” Boyd said, “but the coverage that they were in opened up for me, and we took advantage of it.
“Once I got it, I just wanted to go and try to make a big play, and it happened that way, and we won it. I definitely was surprised at how open it was, but I wasn’t surprised that I got into the end zone.”
Despite his struggles over the course of the season, Boyd’s confidence in himself never wavered – just as the team’s confidence stayed strong despite a second straight losing season.
“This team, this organization never quits,” Boyd said. “We came into the game knowing [the Ravens] had to win. We knew we just had to beat them. Every guy in here just wanted to come in and win.”
There are a lot of questions facing the Bengals as they head into a season of uncertainty. Hopefully, they have found one of their answers.