It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Except flip those.
The Cincinnati Bengals took the field on Thursday night to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in Paul Brown Stadium in their only prime time game of the 2021 season and looked flat, allowing the Jags to jump out to a 14-0 lead at the end of the first half.
Even though Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense were able to move the ball down the field, thanks to an early missed field goal attempt by Evan McPherson, they couldn’t put any points up on the board.
The defense allowed bruising running back James Robinson to score two touchdowns in the first half, and managed to make the Urban Meyer run offense look good for the first time this season. These were “the worst of times” I was referring to.
Here’s a good visual representation of how the Bengals looked in the first half.
Then the Bengals introduced their ring of honor at halftime and the two teams took the field and everything changed.
Here are some things that went well, a few that didn’t and a look at the Bengals’ next opponent.
On This Team, We Fight For That Inch!
I’m not sure what head coach Zac Taylor said to his team at halftime, but I’m assuming he channeled his inner Tony D’Amato, because the Bengals came out in the second half and looked like a different team. After not scoring a single point in the first half, Joe Burrow took the offense down the field in four plays in just one minute and 48 seconds, capping the drive off with a 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah.
Then the defense forced a three-and-out and Burrow and company scored again. This time on a 12-play drive, ending with a one-yard touchdown run from Joe Mixon.
You could tell the Bengals had woken up and smelled blood in the water.
Like Waves Breaking on the Rocks
The momentum really didn’t shift at halftime. It shifted just before the end of the first half when the Bengals defense forced the Jaguars offense to turn the ball over after a failed fourth-and-goal attempt from the one-yard line. The Bengals defense, which had struggled to that point in the evening, held firm and made Meyer regret his decision to get greedy.
The Jaguars lost all momentum at that point, and never got it back.
(Not) More Human Than Human
Bengals rookie kicker Evan McPherson has only attempted six field goals so far in the 2021 season, but I’ve already made up my mind that he’s very good. After all, he nailed a game winner in Week 1 from 34 yards out, and he’s two-for-two from 50-plus yards.
He did show us on Thursday that he’s not a robot, though, as he’s not perfect, missing a 43 yard attempt to finish off the Bengals’ first drive of the game. He made up for it, though, kicking the game winner as time expired in the fourth from 35 yards.
It’s nice to see he was able to shake off the missed kick. I’m excited to watch his career in Cincinnati.
After signing a three-year, $42 million contract as a free agent before the 2020 season, cornerback Trae Waynes injured his pectoral muscle and was ruled out for the entire season after having surgery. He then injured his hamstring in the preseason this year and missed the first three regular season games. He made his Bengals debut on Thursday. As expected, he struggled at times. The receivers he was covering were only targeted twice, but both were completions, including a 52-yard bomb to wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr.
It would be irrational to expect Waynes to be a shutdown corner in his first game in over a year, but it was nice to see him on the field. Hopefully he’ll stay healthy and show he was worth the large contract he signed.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Strong safety Vonn Bell has been a great addition to the Bengals secondary. He’s not a natural coverage safety like his counterpart Jessie Bates, though. Bates missed the Bengals’ Week 4 game with a neck injury suffered in the team’s Week 3 win in Pittsburgh. Without Bates on the field, Bell, along with the rest of the secondary, struggled at times in pass coverage. Bell is a good safety, especially in the box and in run support, but he’s at his best when one of the best center-field free safeties is in the secondary with him.
An Apple A Day
If I’m going to call Eli Apple out when he plays bad, which he did in the Bengals’ first three games, then I need to say something when he has a good game, which he did on Thursday. Apple was the team’s highest graded defensive back, according to Pro Football Focus. He was targeted three times and only gave up two receptions for 14 yards. This week it was Mike Hilton who struggled. He was targeted nine times and gave up eight catches for 84 yards.
I still think Apple belongs on the sideline when Waynes, Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie, who missed the Week 3 game with groin injury, are all healthy. However, if he plays like he did in Week 4, he’ll be a great asset off the bench.
Mighty Joe Young
In years past, had the Bengals gone into the locker room down by 14 points at halftime, I think most fans would write the game off as a loss. The Bengals haven’t historically been a team that can battle through adversity. Maybe it was coaching, or maybe it was personnel, but I don’t think an Andy Dalton led team wins that game, and that’s nothing against Dalton. He overachieved through the majority of his career in Cincinnati.
Burrow feels different. He put the team on his back Thursday night and willed the Bengals to win. He completed 78 percent of his passes, throwing for 348 yards and two touchdowns.
With Burrow at the helm, the Bengals don’t feel out when they're down. This team just feels different now.
The Bengals stay in Cincinnati and will face off against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoon. Here are a few things that need to happen to come out ahead against the reigning NFL MVP.
- The Bengals have scored 27, 24 and 24 points in their three wins, but that likely won’t cut it on Sunday against the Packers. Rodgers and the Packers offense can be explosive, even against some of the best defenses in the NFL. The Bengals offensive play calling has been conservative at times so far in the 2021 season, but in order to win on Sunday they’ll have to unleash Burrow. He has an incredible group of weapons in Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, C.J. Uzomah and Joe Mixon (if Mixon plays). It’s time to use them early and often.
- After a terrible season opener, Rodgers has looked like his old self, leading the packers to three consecutive wins. The Bengals defense will have to create pressure, but the secondary will have to be at their best, especially against Davante Adams, one of the best receivers in the NFL.
- Rodgers and Adams aren’t the only two the Bengals have to worry about, as running back Aaron Jones can be deadly too. He’s averaging 3.8 yards per carry so far this season, but his receiving ability out of the backfield is really what makes him dangerous. He has caught three touchdown passes so far this season, which leads all NFL running backs (I’m not going to count Cordarrelle Patterson).
- If Burrow and the Bengals offense is going to be unleashed on Sunday, the offensive line will have to make sure their quarterback stays clean in the pocket. They’ve done a good job over the last two weeks, only giving up one sack, and they’ll need to continue trending in that direction. If Burrow is running for his life all afternoon, the Bengals won’t be able to put enough points on the board to win.
To wrap things up, here are some random Week 4 thoughts:
- Trey Hendrickson continues to impress. He didn’t log a sack on Thursday night, but he was in the backfield all game long, logging five hurries. He was a solid addition this offseason.
- Chase showed he’s not just a deep threat. While he did log one 44-yard catch, most of his work came on short to intermediate routes to keep moving the chains. It’s clear that Chase is a true number one that can work as a deep threat or a possession receiver.
- Joe Mixon left the game on Thursday night with an ankle injury that has now been revealed to be a low-grade ankle sprain. He’s considered week-to-week, but I would think he’s likely not to play on Sunday. We may see more Chris Evans on passing downs (I know that’s a Week 5 thought).
- Uzomah came up big Thursday night, scoring two touchdowns and also getting the Bengals into field-goal range in the team’s final drive of the game. What team has the defense to cover Chase, Higgins, Boyd, Uzomah and Mixon?
- B.J. Hill logged the team’s only sack on Lawrence, his third of the season. He was a great acquisition via trade for center Billy Price.
- It’s nice to see the Bengals have joined the rest of the NFL by honoring their history. The ring of honor was a long time overdue.
- The fact that Ken Riley isn’t in the NFL hall of fame is a travesty.
- Ken Anderson belongs in Canton as well.
- According to NFL Network, the Jaguars-Bengals game was the most watched Thursday night game since 2018.
- Trevor Lawrence, through high school, college and now in the NFL, has only lost two games after being up by two touchdowns. He lost both of those games to Joe Burrow.
- This is one of my favorite things of all time.
- So is this.