It took four quarters and a full overtime period to decide the Cincinnati Bengals’ first game of 2021.
Thankfully, it ended in glorious victory, as Evan McPherson hit the game-winning 35-yard field goal in overtime to give the home team a 27-24 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Now, it’s time for a look at the biggest winners and losers of game No. 1 for the Bengals.
Tee Higgins: A big reason why there’s so much optimism with this offense is the second-year breakout many think is coming from Tee Higgins. So far, so good as Higgins looked great through the first three quarters before briefly leaving the game to get an IV. He finished with four grabs on five targets for 58 yards and a score while also drawing a key pass interference penalty for 26 yards.
Defensive line: What a day by this unit, and the Bengals needed every bit of it with a thin secondary going against Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Three sacks, six QB hits and many others pressures by the defensive line in regulation should have been enough for the Bengals to pull out a win, though they did just enough in OT to hold on. And their run defense was just as good while going against one of the NFL’s best backs in Dalvin Cook, who was held to just 61 rushing yards, one score and one fumble on 20 carries (3.1 avg).
Ja’Marr Chase: I think Ja’Marr Chase is going to be ok. Despite looking very shaky in the preseason, Chase looked every bit like a top-10 pick today against Minnesota. His three catches in the first half led to a pair of Bengals touchdowns, one being a 50-yard scoring bomb he hauled in from Joe Burrow that put the good guys ahead. He finished the game with a game-high 101 yards on five grabs with one score.
Joe Burrow: It’s also safe to say Joe Burrow is back. After spending most of the offseason limited while recovering from ACL surgery and having a shaky start in training camp, Burrow looked as good today as he ever did as a rookie. He was sharp, decisive, accurate and showed off the improved arm strength with his deep strike to Chase. Burrow completed 10-straight passes at one point and looks well on his way to a big 2021 season, so long as he stays healthy.
Chidobe Awuzie: The Bengals appear to have found a keeper, as Chidobe Awuzie looked impressive today while spending a lot of time on Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson, who had just four grabs for 59 yards in regulation. It’s only one game, but Awuzie’s performance today certainly adds some validation to the Bengals’ decision to let William Jackson go in free agency. Yes, Awuzie’s holding penalty in overtime was rough, but he had a good game overall that the Bengals should have finished in regulation.
Even McPherson: The rookie wasn’t called on for much of the game, but he still converted all three PATs and drilled a 53-yard field goal in regulation to show his promising preseason was no fluke. But his biggest kick came as time expired in overtime when he drilled a 35-yarder to win the game. The Bengals finally have a kicker, folks.
Joe Mixon: After missing much of last season with a foot injury, Joe Mixon looked as good as ever today, finishing with 127 yards and a score on 29 carries. He also caught all four of his targets for 23 yards. While he didn’t have a play of 20+ yards, Mixon consistently churning out yards kept the Bengals offense moving and helped them control the clock.
C.J. Uzomah: After catching just one pass for three yards through the first 69 minutes, C.J. Uzomah made the biggest catch of the game (and maybe his career) by hauling in a 32-yard strike from Burrow in overtime to put the Bengals in easy field-goal range, which McPherson converted. It wasn’t an easy grab either as he reminded everyone he can make an impact even in this loaded passing offense.
That 4th-down play: Don’t go for it at your own 30-yard line while up two scores. That’s what Zac Taylor did in the second half, and it nearly sparked a Vikings rally after they were starting to look dead in the water. Thankfully, the Bengals held on, so all is forgiven.
Pass blocking: While Joe Burrow had a big game, he was still under frequent pressure, as the Vikings racked up five sacks and seven QB hits. Granted, the Vikings have a pretty good defensive line, but this can’t continue if Burrow is going to actually finish a season.
Fred Johnson: Coming into the game, it looked like Fred Johnson would be the Bengals’ swing tackle and the next man up if either of the starting tackles went down. However, Johnson was a healthy scratch as Isaiah Prince got the nod instead. Things aren’t looking good for Johnson seeing playing time this season unless there are injuries.
Eli Apple: There’s a reason the Bengals were able to sign Eli Apple to a cheap deal in free agency. While he’s flashed potential at times, he’s just too much of a liability to feel good about starting. His second-quarter meltdown allowed the Vikings to score their only touchdown of the first 40:30 minutes of game time.
Very rough drive for Bengals CB Eli Apple.— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) September 12, 2021
-- missed tackle on 3rd-and-24.
-- defensive holding that negates a sack
-- in the area when Cousins found Adam Thielen for a 5-yard TD.
Get well soon Trae Waynes.