The Cincinnati Bengals left Florida with a thrilling win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After trailing by 17 points, the Bengals dominated the second half to come away with a 34-23 victory.
Let’s take a look at the winners and loser’s from Sunday’s game.
D.J. Reader: Reader’s dominance since returning from the injury he suffered in Week 4. After leading the charge of slowing down Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb, Reader found his handprints all over the game again. This time, it was for forcing turnovers. Reader stripped Tom Brady in the third quarter, leading to a Joseph Ossai recovery. Reader wasn’t done there, though. Later in the quarter, Tampa running back Leonard Fournette let a handoff get away from him and Reader had penetrated the line quickly enough to fall on it. Both turnovers came at moments where the Bengals sorely needed them. The forced fumble resulted in a touchdown to bring Cincinnati within five and Reader’s recovery lead to another touchdown to give the Bengals control they never gave back.
Tre Flowers: Playing more significant snaps than he has all season due to the banged up defensive backfield, Flowers made a few key plays to get the ball back to the Bengal offense. In the second quarter, with the game looking ugly, Flowers came up with a big pass breakup on Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate. In the second half, Flowers’ interception appeared to open the floodgates for turnovers. It is nothing new for Bengals fans to not hear much from Flowers for weeks, then to see him come in and make big plays when the team needs them the most.
Joe Burrow: In the first half, it looked a lot like Burrow was going to end up on the wrong side of this post, but what a second half from No. 9. The defense repeatedly put the ball back in his hands and Burrow made sure to make Tampa pay. The stat sheet isn’t stuffed, but Burrow threw great balls all second half, evading pressure and consistently finding the right read. Burrow became the first Bengals quarterback to ever throw for 30 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons with four touchdown passes in the second half. With the rough first half, many quarterbacks could have been rattled the rest of the day, but that doesn’t seem to happen to Burrow. He won’t be up for any weekly awards, but “Joe Brrr” delivered when he needed to most and picked up a 1-0 record vs. Tom Brady in the highly anticipated matchup.
Lou Anarumo: Another week, another game to give Anarumo his flowers. Down Trey Hendrickson and Mike Hilton to begin the game, things looked bleak as the Bengals trailed 17-3 at half. The injury front didn’t get much better, with another cornerback in Cam Taylor-Britt going down to injury after Sam Hubbard was declared out with a calf injury. Through all of that, Anarumo’s unit responded to give up (points) in the second half. Many defensive players deserve credit for this as well, but Anarumo went into the locker room at halftime and came back out with a great game plan to slow down the Buccaneer offense after maybe their best half of football all season. A garbage time touchdown, followed by a failed two-point conversion is all Brady and co. could muster in the second half.
Germaine Pratt: Much was made of a tweet sent by Pratt after the Week 14 win over the Browns, seemingly voicing displeasure about his number of third down snaps. Pratt saw the field more on third down this week and certainly backed up his words. Finishing with nine tackles (two solo) and an interception, Pratt’s quietly very good season continued in Tampa.
Logan Wilson: Wilson was all over the field in this one, finishing with a game-high 15 tackles — his nine solo tackles were more than any Bucs player had total tackles — to go with one sack and two QB hits. You’d be hard-pressed to find many linebacker tandems better than what the Bengals have in Wilson and Pratt.
Bengals fans: If you watched the broadcast, the “Who Dey” chants were not only noticeable, but they were downright dominant at times. Bengals fans are quickly becoming one of the best traveling fanbases in the NFL. We saw on social media as orange and black flooded Tampa in the days leading up to the game, and it was no different at Raymond James Stadium Sunday evening. Who Dey Nation was out in full force and players were able to feed off of their energy in hostile territory.
Cam Taylor-Britt: Taylor-Britt has played very well in the absence of Chidobe Awuzie, but he looked more like a rookie today. Primarily matching up against Mike Evans catching passes from Tom Brady, who is considered the greatest quarterback of all time is no easy task. Taylor-Britt struggled to stay with Evans for most of the day and got beat on a touchdown throw on a fourth down in the red zone. Things appeared to be getting better in the second half until in the fourth quarter, Taylor-Britt delivered a hit and immediately went down in pain. Injury is never the fault of the player, but a strong second half after a rough start would have gone a long way in his progression.
Sam Hubbard: Like CTB, Hubbard is in here after suffering an injury that knocked him out of the game. Hubbard injured his calf in the first half and never returned to the game. Though he was initially announced as questionable to return, he was seen on the bench without his helmet and clearly knew he was done for the day. Let’s hope this injury doesn’t keep Hubbard sidelined long, especially with Trey Hendrickson potentially missing more time with his wrist injury.
Bengals running game: The splits between Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine are still relatively close, with Mixon still being the lead back. Neither player was able to get much going Sunday, which could have avoided having to come back from a 17 point deficit. Granted, they didn’t get many chances in the first half. For the Bengals success to continue into January, they will need more than 53 yards on the ground from their running back duo. With that said, the running attack came alive in a crucial moment, as the Bengals ran the clock down late in the fourth quarter to keep Brady and co. off the field. Moving forward, a more effective running game on the first three quarters will go a long way.