In fact, the meager offensive production the Bengals managed to generate in Buffalo would be even more underwhelming if Tate hadn’t played.
With 88 yards on six receptions and 10 targets, Tate was Cincinnati’s leading receiver on the day. By the end of the first half, Andy Dalton only had 64 yards to his name.
Tate accounted for 59 of them. That’s a market share of 92%. (Yes, we’re aware that most of those yards came on the last play of the half and they didn’t mean anything).
How did Tate get so involved early on? Along with Tyler Boyd and John Ross III, Tate was out on the field as a starting receiver, getting the nod over undrafted rookie Damion Willis at the “X” spot where A.J. Green predominantly lines up. Considering how lackluster Willis has been to start the season (four receptions, 36 yards, .46 yards per route run), it was refreshing to see Tate get a chance, and he took advantage of it.
Zac Taylor on Auden Tate: "Where Auden has been consistent is that he has aggressive hands and he's tough." Said those are two traits to love.— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) September 23, 2019
On the Bengals’ final drive of the game, Dalton went to Tate four times on the first five plays, completing three of them for 29 yards and, most importantly, three first downs. The offense in general was much more in sync and functional during the second half, and Tate got the group in a position to win in the final seconds.
On a third-and-five with 21 seconds left in the game, Dalton targeted Tate once more on a simple slant route. It was high and behind Tate and bounced off of his left hand; ending up in the arms of cornerback Tre’Davious White for the game-sealing interception. Even if Tate was 7’0”, the throw would still be deplorable and would’ve been picked off anyways.
This was not the only false blemish that will show up on Tate’s box score. Late in the first quarter, Darius Phillips ran back a kickoff return for 92 yards and a touchdown following the Bills’ first touchdown of the day. The return was called back due to a phantom hold on Tate, with emphasis on the word phantom.
The refs, errant passes, bad luck: there’s only so much a second-year receiver can control. Putting everything into perspective, Tate played a fine game in his first-career start. If Green is still sidelined for next week’s Monday night matchup vs. the Steelers, he’ll probably be out there again.
It’s a shame that Willis hasn’t carried his preseason momentum over into September. But ultimately, anyone had to step up in Green’s absence.
If that someone is Tate, then so be it.