This game was supposed to be about the return of Joe Burrow. And it was, but it almost wasn’t.
Burrow was spectacular in his return as quarterback, at least when Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor let him play.
Taylor let Burrow play with time running out in overtime, and Burrow responded with a 32-yard pass to C.J. Uzomah on 4th and inches to move the Bengals to Minnesota’s 20-yard line with just 39 seconds to play. Rookie kicker Evan McPherson finished off the drive with a 38-yard field goal that gave Cincinnati a 27-24 victory in its season opener.
“I think I could have played a little better,” Burrow said in the post-game news conference. “But it’s great to get the win. I think I played decent, but there’s always areas where you can improve.”
Burrow, in his first regular-season game back after a torn ACL/MCL suffered in Week 10 of last year, finished 20/27 for 261 yards and two touchdowns, good for a quarterback rating of 128.8.
But it almost wasn’t enough.
With the Bengals up 21-7 in the third quarter and facing a 4th and 1 from their own 30-yard-line, Taylor inexplicably went for it. The Viking defense stonewalled running back Joe Mixon and took over at the Cincinnati 30 with 3:16 left in the third quarter.
Minnesota didn’t let the opportunity to go to waste. The Vikings closed the margin to 21-14 on a 4th-down pass to Adam Thielen that went for 24 yards and a score.
Rewind to the beginning of the game.
On their first three possessions, Cincinnati went five plays and out, three plays and out, and three plays and out. Burrow went 3/5 for 15 yards, all on short completions to his running backs and tight end.
Then Zac Taylor took off the restraints. Burrow finished the half 11/13 for 134 yards and two touchdowns, with a quarterback rating of 149.2. A perfect rating is 158.3.
Ja’Marr Chase, who had problems catching the football all preseason, hauled in three passes on three targets for 80 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown pass that tied the score at 7-7.
Joe Mixon caught three passes on three targets for 19 yards, and Tee Higgins had two receptions for 16 yards and a touchdown. Tyler Boyd’s lone reception went for nine yards and a 1st down. The Bengals went into halftime with a 14-7 lead.
The Bengals stretched the margin to 21-7 on a two-yard touchdown run by Joe Mixon. Then Taylor made his call, and he compounded the mistake by going with conservative play-calling for the remainder of regulation.
Before this point, Burrow was 16/19 for 200 yards and two touchdowns. After this point, and until the gun marking the end of the fourth quarter, Burrow was 1/4 for 18 yards and no scores.
It didn’t help matters that Burrow got sacked five times, and on his last one, limped off the field in what provided more than a few anxious moments. But Burrow is nothing if not tough.
The former Heisman-winner came out in the overtime period and went 5/6 for 66 yards, including the pass to Uzomah that all but sealed the deal.
Welcome back, Joe. Hopefully, things will go a little smoother next time out.