The stats don’t always tell the story - at least not all of it.
When you look at the stats after the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Tennessee Titans 20-16 Sunday night, names like Tee Higgins, Hayden Hurst and Samaje Perine stand out. And well they should.
Higgins finished with seven receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown, Hurst had six catches for 57 yards and Perine came through with four receptions for 35 yards, in addition to gaining 58 yards on the ground on 17 carries.
“Tee always has a big game,” head coach Zac Taylor said. “A lot of those are just one-on-one opportunities. We feel like we’ve got great matchups with any corner in the league if we get one-on-ones. We expect our guys to rise up to the challenge and make the plays.”
But it was another guy who did not stand out on the stat sheet who may have made the biggest impact of them all.
The score was tied at 13-13 early in the fourth quarter, and the Bengals were facing 3rd-down-and-12 at the Tennessee 43-yard line. Quarterback Joe Burrow gunned a pass deep down the right sideline, which wide receiver Trenton Irwin corralled just before falling out of bounds.
My goodness, Trenton!! pic.twitter.com/NeUC9fgY1m— Dadio Makdook (@dadiodefacto) November 27, 2022
“It’s third down, it’s a one-on-one alert and Joe went to Trenton Irwin because he had a matchup that he liked,” Taylor explained. “I think that speaks volumes of the confidence not only we have in Trenton to put him in that spot but for Joe to go to him when the game was tight like that.”
The very next play, Burrow hit Tee Higgins for a 27-yard touchdown pass that gave Cincinnati a 20-13 lead.
“The biggest play of that drive was the third and 10 to Trenton Irwin, hitting that back-shoulder throw,” Burrow said. “That was a throw we worked this week with him that he doesn’t get a lot of opportunities on, and he just continues to make plays when his opportunity presents itself.”
That catch was Irwin’s only one of the day, and it followed last week’s three-reception effort against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which included the first touchdown catch of his career.
“To step up and make that play allowed us to finish off that drive the right way,” Taylor said. “Great throw and a great catch there by Trenton.”
With Ja’Marr Chase set to return next week against Kansas City, Irwin’s opportunities will almost certainly decrease. But he has shown over these past two weeks that he belongs, and the Bengals are the better for it.