What a win for the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night. As they honored the first class of inductees to the Ring of Honor and the 1981 AFC Championship team, the newest group of Bengals turned a “here we go again” game into one that could be integral to a potential playoff berth down the road.
There was a lot to like in this one, but areas also needing to be cleaned up. Here are the best and worst facets to the Bengals’ 24-21 win over the Jaguars on primetime.
When seeing the Bengals down 14-0 at the half, the couch-surfing football fan may have been inclined to think that this was Burrow’s fault and/or turnovers being a factor. That was simply not the case.
And, seeing his team’s chips being down and facing a former NCAA National Champion in Trevor Lawrence, Burrow knew he had to take control of the game in the final two quarters. What ensued in that span was nearly-miraculous, as Burrow led the Bengals to 24 points in all four of their second-half possessions and the eventual win.
Perhaps the best element of Burrow’s game on Thursday night? The trademark elusiveness to avoid pocket pressure and make plays.
#Bengals QB Joe Burrow says he audibled for a screen to CJ Uzomah to set up the game-winner: “You guys have heard me talking about knowing the playbook in the back of my head... I know their defensive coordinator (Joe Cullen) has a Baltimore background." pic.twitter.com/dF1RxoRYxc— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) October 1, 2021
The dynamic duo of Tyler Boyd and Ja’Marr Chase:
As the Bengals formed their over-arching 2021 offensive game plan, they created plays to get the triumvirate of Chase, Boyd and Tee Higgins involved. With Higgins missing the last two games with a shoulder injury, the team has had to alter its approach, while the rookie has had to assume more early pressure than expected.
All they keep doing is stepping up. While neither guy got into the end zone on Thursday night, both did the dirty work “between the 20’s” with clutch catches. Boyd has taken a bit of a back seat so far this year, but grabbed nine huge grabs in the comeback win, while Chase popped another bomb play in the form of a 44-yarder.
The rookie pops the big plays, the veteran slot guy moves the chains and Higgins, when healthy, is a viable read zone threat. Just a great plethora of weapons for Burrow.
In terms of receiving threats, Chase, Higgins and Boyd have received the lion’s share of public attention and rightfully so. But, a trademark of a good team with solid depth is in a high performance from someone usually down the pecking order.
The last time the Bengals played in primetime and on Thursday night, Uzomah had a touchdown reception, but also tore his Achilles tendon against the Browns last year. Uzomah had a huge catch in Week 1, but has been pretty quiet this year.
He absolutely torched the Jaguars, racking up 95 yards and two touchdowns on five catches. Uzomah’s grab on a “jailbreak screen” set up Evan McPherson’s game-winning field goal and capped a feel-good story for the veteran tight end. Grown man stuff from No. 87 on Thursday night.
The PBS crowd:
It was a special night in Cincinnati for a number of reasons. A primetime-televised game, two No. 1 picks going head-to-head and a number of those who cover the Bengals from out-of-town made this a special one on the calendar.
While there were moments of first-half boos, the home crowd was mostly deafening and didn’t lose interest in a game that was frustrating for about three quarters. While they were taken out of things in the second quarter, their energy fed the Bengals as they marched to a win.
Go back and listen to the crowd noise on a third-and-7 for the Jaguars with 11:58 on the clock (it was an incompletion and led to an eventual punt). Seattle-esque at this moment when the Bengals clawed back within seven points.
The fourth-down stand:
Jacksonville had command on this one. Whether you wanted to blame it on the short week, the massive amount of snaps the Bengals’ defense, or an inspired Jaguars team, Cincinnati was on the ropes.
The Bengals’ defense didn’t have an early answer for the RPO and safe passing offense from Lawrence, so naturally, Urban Meyer dialed up the former on a critical fourth-and-goal right before halftime.
There were so many facets of this game that brought out the worst memories from longtime Bengals fans. So much so, that the “boo birds” came out, as Cincinnati was looking like it would drop yet another winnable primetime game.
But, as they’ve proven three times this season already, this team doesn’t care about labels, preconceived notions, or games plays prior to 2021. Instead, they let Burrow take control, blocked out the ancillary noise and shut us all up, en route to a solid 3-1 start.
The orange uni’s:
Sorry, not sorry. I loved the look of the orange helmet, new-look orange jerseys with the white pants. It may not have been to everybody’s taste, but compared to the 2004 version of “the orange-sickle” look? Way better.
Zac Taylor, “the player’s coach”:
There are a lot of criticisms surrounding the Bengals’ head coach, but one thing that has remained seemingly constant in his two-plus seasons: the players appear to support him. He’s young, innovative and reportedly listens to the preferences of all players on the roster—particularly that of the stars.
He’s still growing into this role, but also exudes the confidence and exuberance to each of his players. It was a big win and his players stepped up both because and in spite of some of his decisions. It appears as if he fully acknowledged what transpired on Thursday night:
Zac Taylor individually congratulating each player coming off the field after a prime time #Bengals win & moving to 3-1!— Josh Cavalcante (@jcav_8) October 1, 2021
He may take on a lot of criticism from fans & media, but the players clearly love playing for him & this staff.
PBS was electric!⚡️#WhoDey #RuleTheJungle pic.twitter.com/8eiToEbnzs
Playing imperfectly on a short week and getting the win:
The Bengals made mistakes of their own volition, while also creating in-game building blocks to gain confidence late. Cincinnati is far from a perfect team, but they are calling plays that play to their respective strengths, and
The Ring of Honor inductees and members of the 1981 AFC Championship squad:
This game’s storylines ended up being about Joe Burrow, the Bengals winning in primetime and a great comeback victory. However, what has been overlooked from the national perspective is the honoring of four of the most iconic NFL figures in this one.
Paul Brown, Anthony Munoz, Ken Anderson and Ken Riley being inducted into the Bengals’ Ring of Honor. And, the 40th anniversary of that special 1981 AFC Championship squad was also honored, making this a very special night for the Bengals and the entire city of Cincinnati.
Not only did the four inductees receive killer sport coats while finally being properly honored by the team, but all of these former Bengals greats got to see a potentially-special 2021 Bengals team complete an improbable comeback.
What a night!!!— Ken Anderson (@KenAndersonNFL) October 1, 2021
Getting inducted into ROH
Then watching Joey Franchise lead us to a comeback win
Along with Cristy my kids Matt, Megan and Molly got to be on the field with me
How special is that!!!
A lack of big defensive plays and noticeable absences:
The Bengals’ defense has thrived on big plays this year, be it from sacking the quarterback, or in the form of a timely turnover to help get them to a 3-1 record. That wasn’t the case on Thursday night, as Cincinnati’s defense didn’t make the Jaguars to give them the ball on a turnover and only brought Lawrence to the turf once.
Lou Anarumo’s unit did force two punts on three of Jacksonville’s second half possessions, but they didn’t make the trademark plays we’ve seen through the first quarter of the season. Against a more formidable opponent, these lack of game-changing plays could aid in yielding a different outcome.
Darius Phillips’ return decisions:
The experiment of putting one of the Bengals’ most electric players as a return man hasn’t bore the fruits everyone had hoped. Cincinnati has limited Phillips’ defensive snaps (save for the glut of injuries at cornerback) to make sure he focuses most of his energy and big-play abilities on special teams.
Phillips had two punt returns net nine total yards, with a long of 10 yards. A couple of those had questionable fair catch decisions, which has been a bit of a trend in 2021. He also averaged just 21.5 yards per kickoff return, as the team just isn’t popping the big plays we’ve become accustomed to in recent years to flip the field position.
Inability to defend the RPO:
Credit goes to Jacksonville, who seemed to take note of what plagued them in their first three games and exploit the Bengals’ few weaknesses on defense. Unfortunately, it seemed as if the Jaguars mostly took advantage of where the Bengals had injured personnel.
Still, Urban Meyer, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Lawrence and transitioned to methodical plays instead of having the rookie wing it all over the field. Instead, they often used Lawrence’s sneaky athleticism on Run-Pass-Option plays to moderate success.
Lawrence had eight carries for 36 yards and a rushing touchdown, while taking the occasional shot downfield. Lawrence had a 71% completion rate, his first turnover-less game and a 96.5 rating.
Injuries piling up:
Thankfully, it seems like the Bengals are getting healthier in a longer break to get set for the Packers. However, a number of other important players got nicked up in this one, including Joe Mixon getting a low-grade ankle sprain.
While the Bengals appear to be on the mend, absences by Chidobe Awuzie, Jessie Bates and others were noticeable. This is a deeper team than the previous two iterations of Taylor’s Bengal rosters, but as the season wears on and with an additional regular season game, it will continue to be tested.
The run defense:
In the first three games, the Bengals’ defense showed great improvement in run defense. They held two of 2020’s top-10 rushers in Dalvin Cook and David Montgomery to 61 yards 3.0 yards per carry apiece, respectively, while Najee Harris had just 40 rushing yards against them in Week 3.
However, in the Thursday night clash, the Bengals allowed 139 yards on 30 carries (4.6 yards per carry average) and three touchdowns on the ground. Lawrence was effective on RPO plays, while James Robinson had 18 carries for 78 yards and two of the three scores.
It’s a formula that nearly led to a Jacksonville win and one that hopefully is more indicative of important roster absences and a short week more than anything. If not, Cincinnati’s nice month could start to turn a different direction.