Behind their reconfigured offensive line that was revamped as the game went on, the Bengals took a 17-7 halftime lead over the AFC-leading Titans Sunday at wind-blown Paul Brown Stadium. The big play came on running back Giovani Bernard's 12-yard touchdown run with 32 seconds left in the half.
Bernard, who had 40 yards on six carries in the half bolted behind the down blocks of freshly-signed left guard Quinton Spain and rookie left tackle Hakeem Adeniji and ran away from the tackle of safety Kevin Byard.
That came moments after rookie quarterback Joe Burrow converted a fourth-and-five from the Titans 43 with 2:36 left. Burrow juked and moved in the pocket and the line allowed him to pat the ball long enough for him to see rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins breaking off his route for 22 yards.
Burrow and Higgins, the Bengals' first two draft picks, respectively, came up big in the first half. Burrow was 14 of 21 for 125 yards while his club converted five of eight third downs against the NFL's worst third-down defense. As Higgins caught five balls for 71 yards, they also were two-for-three scoring touchdown against the Titans' next-to-last red zone defense.
Burrow, who didn't get sacked in the half and only got hit once, needed "My Name Is," tags on the jerseys of his offensive line to congratulate them. The O-line took yet another shot Sunday morning when left guard Michael Jordan became the fourth starter to be sidelined since the second quarter of last week's game with an illness not related to COVID-19.
Shaq Calhoun, who had seven starts for the Dolphins last season as an undrafted rookie out of Mississippi State, made his first Bengals start in place of Jordan. But he was replaced by Spain on the second drive.
Adeniji and sophomore Fred Johnson made their first NFL starts at left and right tackle, respectively. Spain, just signed to the practice squad Friday and elevated with Calhoun Saturday, had been cut by the Bills just two weeks ago.
Despite those four brand new starting offensive linemen and two left guards in the first two series, the Bengals took a 10-0 lead in the first four minutes of the second quarter.
On a play where Higgins gave up 15 years to savvy 36-year-old Titans cornerback Johnathan Joseph, Burrow went play-action into the back of the end zone where the leaping Higgins drew a 22-yard pass interference penalty.
Gameday photos as the Cincinnati Bengals host the Tennessee Titans in Week 8 of the 2020 NFL season.
That put the ball on the 1 and running back Samaje Perine, who played that series instead of Bernard, muscled in over the left side for his first Bengals touchdown.
On a third-and-one on the snap before the big call on Joseph, the Bengals went three tight ends and Burrow rolled out and got the yard he needed on a sideline flip to tight end Cethan Carter.
The Bengals also got a third down conversion when wide receiver Auden Tate had a catch-and-stretch for eight and Burrow made a big 13-yard catch on second after Adeniji false started.
Burrow had two magical plays in the opening drive that netted Randy Bullock's 33-yard field goal five minutes into the game. When we was flushed out of the pocket to his right and just before he went out of bounds he flicked a moonball down the sideline. Higgins launched himself over Joseph and he couldn't prevent Higgins' fabulous leaping 24-yard catch.
Later, Burrow somehow slithered out of the grasp of linebacker Jadeveon Clowney's blitz and managed to complete a short pass on the run.
But on third down, Burrow had to get rid of it quickly in the red zone and overthrew wide receiver Tyler Boyd and Bullock came on.
The Bengals contained Henry to four yards on his first three carries in the Titans' first series and got the ball back when Tannehill threw just his third interception of the season. And it was in the end zone. From the Bengals 8, Tannehill got flushed out and tried to hit his tight end , but free safety Jessie Bates III stepped in front for his second interception of the season.
Then on the second possession, end Carl Lawson got a piece of Tannehill as he threw a third-and-long incompletion to set up Stephen Gostkowski's 53-yard field goal try that hit the right upright. So at the end of the first quarter, the Titans had 104 yards of offense, but the Bengals had a 3-0 lead and that miss set up the 10-0 lead.
The Titans got their touchdown on a 10-play drive that featured one incompletion and nine runs. But that was it. The Bengals allowed only one 20-yard play in the half and Henry didn't go crazy with 58 yards on 12 carries and Tannehill had just a 36.1 passer rating, uncharacteristically missing seven of 13 passes in an 86-yard half.
The Bengals lost backup cornerback Darius Phillips with a groin injury.