It was a gutsy win for a young roster still learning how to adapt on the fly. Two of their youngest players came out of the game as clear winners, and their stock is rising as the playoff push continues for this team.
Shayne Graham coached Evan McPherson for only one year at Florida. Graham spent six more years kicking footballs for the Bengals in his NFL career, in which he made nearly 87% of his field goals for Cincinnati.
But even Graham knows McPherson is another level ahead of where he ever was.
Even in my prime, I couldn’t compete with @McPherson_Evan— Shayne graham (@Shaynegraham17) December 20, 2021
Graham averaged one 50-yard field goal for every year he played for the Bengals. He made seven of them in 16 tries. McPherson entered his 14th career game with seven already under his belt. He left it with nine.
Long field goals are nothing new in Denver, where the stadium is 5,280 feet above sea level. Thinner air means more air time for the pigskin. Combine this with the cannon attached to McPherson’s right leg, and history was already being drafted.
In a rare first-half sighting, the Bengals’ offense crossed the 50-yard line and barely any further for McPherson’s first attempt. He got them on the board with a 53-yarder. Later in the half, a long miss from Broncos’ kicker Brandon McManus gave the Bengals and McPherson a chance to take the lead going into the locker room. Thanks to a 19-yard catch from Tyler Boyd from the play prior, McPherson, with a bladder full of urine, stepped up and drained a 58-yarder as the clock expired.
The record-breaker didn’t do too much in terms of momentum as the offense continued to sputter for most of the second half, but it did help give them room at the very end when the Broncos were down five instead of just two. McPherson also hit a 26-yarder in the third quarter to extend their lead at the time to six.
For a 22-year old rookie who has drilled the net from beyond 50 yards several times, 58 yards is not going to be the longest kick he ever makes, but he’ll be breaking his own record when that 60-yarder inevitably happens.
McPherson needs one more 50-yard field goal to tie Blair Walsh’s rookie record, which is also the overall record as well. Walsh also holds the rookie record for field goal percentage (92.1%) when he made 35 of his 38 attempts back in 2012. McPherson’s percentage is currently at 85.7% after 28 attempts, so he’ll need to make 23-straight field goals in these three remaining games to break that. That’s not happening unless every single remaining drive ends in a field goal.
It’s going to be fascinating recapping Jackson Carman’s rookie year. His best moments have come when we least expect it. He’s held his own when injuries have forced him into the starting lineup, and has underwhelmed when he’s expected to start.
Seriously. If you go by Pro Football Focus grades, Carman has a 89.9 when coming off the bench in four games (79 snaps) and a 38 in his five starts (228 snaps). It should be noted 13 of those 79 snaps have come as an extra blocker on the end of the formation and not at guard.
The theme continued in Denver when he came in for Hakeem Adeniji and played a clean 33 snaps to close the game out. He was the team’s highest-graded pass blocker per Pro Football Focus.
Look at the pop in Jackson Carman's hands. Just hits McTelvin Agim (6'3", 309) right in the chest. pic.twitter.com/iCg0uXrsYE— Andrew Russell (@PFF_AndrewR) December 20, 2021
So, do you start Carman and hope his hot hands translate to a full game, or do you go back to a more stable Adeniji? It’s not as if Adeniji has been a world-beater, but there are reasons why he’s been out there and Carman has not. The coaches may not have a choice if Adeniji’s sprained ankle keeps him from practicing. They’ve not shied away from praising Adeniji, but they’ve also given Carman chances before when he’s earned them.
Whatever the case may be, Carman can feel good about his standing after Sunday. Being a backup in December of 2021 means you’re never more ready to step up and play should injuries or the Omicron variant impact rosters.
Slotting Ja’Marr Chase in this category was debatable for me. The numbers say this was his worst game; one reception for three measly yards isn’t going to cut it. Production has multiple factors that go into it, and while Chase could’ve done more on his part, sometimes the opposition is too much.
Should Chase be penalized for the mistakes of his offensive linemen? Late in the first quarter, Joe Burrow connected with Chase 46 yards down the field on a broken play thanks to a leaping grab by the rookie. Burrow escaped from a collapsing pocket and let out some LSU magic for the second week in a row. But the play didn’t count because left guard Quinton Spain was flagged for holding. 46 yards and a highlight reel play erased from existence.
The rest of the game featured Chase and his fellow receivers not having much success against a formidable Broncos secondary. Whether it was ineffective route concepts or sticky man coverage, success attacking this unit was hard to find outside a handful of plays.
But Chase didn’t make any mistakes. There wasn’t any mishaps on his routes or inexcusable drops. The Broncos just played really well against him, and had his left guard blocked better on one play, we wouldn’t be staring at his seemingly abysmal stat-line.
Cam Sample had another run-of-the-mill game as Trey Hendrickson’s backup. You could argue Khalid Kareem’s outstanding 13 snaps bodes bad for the rookie Sample, but they need Sample just as much as they need Kareem now to fill in for Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard.
While Carman got the call to fill in at right guard next to Fred Johnson at right tackle, D’Ante Smith reported eligible a handful of times as an extra blocker on run plays. He first appeared during the offense’s first drive of the second half and finished the game with three snaps total.
The carousel at right guard continues to go around 15 weeks into the season. Smith’s injury cost him opportunities to step in, and just when he returned, Carman had arguably his best game. It’s good that they have him healthy, but don’t expect the offense to start him unless further injuries occur.
Chris Evans also made his return to the offense and came on for six snaps, all on passing downs. The late injury to Joe Mixon was an opportunity for the rookie to see the field more, but Samaje Perine got those snaps, unsurprisingly. The offense’s trust in Perine has not wavered this year very much, and it was unlikely for Evans to be involved much more during his first game back from injury.
Roster management becomes a question for the Bengals at this position. Evans being healthy gives them four usable running backs on the 53 right now. Trayveon Williams, who was signed from the practice squad in the wake of Evans’ hamstring injury, may become expendable and end up back to where he started so they can use that roster spot somewhere on defense, where they really need depth right now. This also depends on Joe Mixon’s injury status, as he was taken out of the game with a bad ankle, but head coach Zac Taylor expressed optimism that Mixon will be fine.
Did Not Play
- Trey Hill
- Tyler Shelvin (inactive)