Yes, wide receiver A.J. Green thought it was a bad call.
Green, who finished his first game since Oct. 28, 2018, thought he had done what he did that day. Set them up for a win in what somehow turned into the Chargers' exasperating 16-13 Opening Day victory over the Bengals.
In '18, it had been a rolling catch over the middle to set up Randy Bullock's winner. On Sunday it was a three-yard touchdown catch with seven seconds left, knifing between Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward, Jr. and the front right pylon. And thrown perfectly by rookie quarterback Joe Burrow.
But the ref said Green pushed off and nullified the touchdown. Green said all's fair in love and war.
"For one, he was clamping me the whole time," Green said. "Coming off the ball within five yards, so if you're are going to call that, we can call that both ways. But they made the call and we lost the game.
"It definitely was the winning touchdown."
But he saw the future. The name is "Burrow."
"He's unbelievable. That guy doesn't flinch," Green said. "The way he handled himself in that last drive was unbelievable. I haven't seen no rookie the way he handled it after adversity. We got a special one in Joe and we are going to be better next week. We are going to build this thing brick by brick and get better each week."
Green finished with five catches for 51 yards. But if you ask him it was six for 58 and his seventh Opening Day TD.
BULLOCK HURTS CALF: Bullock's left calf did what the Bengals offense couldn't do. As Bullock went to kick the tying 31-yard field goal with seven seconds left, he sliced it right when he couldn't bring his kicking leg through while the other calf "grabbed," he said.
When Bullock put the Bengals up, 13-6, with a 43 yard field goal with 1:32 left in the third quarter, he had just passed Shayne Graham as the most accurate kicker in Bengals history with an 87 percentage. Now he's back in second place after suffering just the second miss of his career on a last kick (the Bengals lost when he missed one in Houston on Christmas Eve, 2016) and the Bengals never got to overtime.
But in one of the classier acts you'll see, Bullock met the media in the team's first-ever post-game Zoom.
"I don't have anything to hide from. I'm here," Bullock said. "I've played for a long time. This is part of my job as well as communicating with you guys. I wish I had a better answer for what transpired. For whatever reason a calf grabbed and affected the play."
But whether he can go to Cleveland for Thursday night's game is still an open question. He said he'll get re-evaluated Monday.
He was devastated. He says he's never had any kind of an injury history and he didn't feel this coming on. He had just kicked a 50-yarder and 43-yarder and warming on the sideline for this one.
"Once I started the actual process of the kick, that was when it just kind of locked up on me and grabbed," Bullock said. "My teammates were good to me. I think everybody was disappointed. Nobody was more disappointed than I was. That's a kick I expect to make regardless. It's a freak situation, really frustrated and disappointed. That's how that transpired.
"It started as I kind of started the whole process of the kick, just kind of pushing forward and it just grabbed, preventing me from being able to pull through."
JOE D: Burrow gave himself a D and it wasn't for debut. He pointed to his overthrow of a wide open Green for what would have been a 31-yard touchdown on the first series of the second half and his interception off an ill-advised shovel pass with 5:13 left and the Bengals already in field goal position to tie it. Instead of going to running back Giovani Bernard on a screen at the Chargers 23, he tossed it right into the arms of Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram III.
"I can't miss that throw to A.J. A high schooler can make that throw," Burrow said. "And I can't throw the ball right to Melvin Ingram when we're in scoring range, so it was a tough way to lose."
Burrow said he saw Ingram all the way, too.
"It was just a bad shovel," he said.
The draft's overall No. 1 pick didn't go easy on himself. A few snaps before the overthrow to Green, it looked like he dropped a dime on wide-open wide receiver John Ross, but it appeared to go right over his shoulder and through Ross's hands.
Burrow says no.
"The way I see it, I overthrew him. I've got to put it on his chest," Burrow said. "I'll watch the film and see what happened, but I've got to make a better throw."
And Burrow shrugged at the call on Green and pointed at himself.
"It was bang-bang play. At the end of the day, I made too many mistakes to win the game and we just didn't make enough plays to win the game," Burrow said. "So, whether that call goes our way or not, a lot of calls are going to go in a lot of different ways throughout the game. I missed A.J. on a deep ball and John (Ross III) on a deep ball (in the end zone earlier) and then I threw the interception — that just can't happen."
ZAC TAKES: Head coach Zac Taylor didn't know what his injury situation was for Thursday night's game in Cleveland besides Bullock.
It looked like they may not have right guard Xavier Sua'-Filo (ankle), who had to leave in the third quarter and was replaced by Billy Price. Nose tackle D.J. Reader returned briefly after suffering muscle cramps that took him out of the bulk of the Chargers' last two scoring drives.
Here's why Taylor didn't take one last shot into the end zone with seven second left:
"Getting bumped back there with the rush that they can get you with, (if you) take a sack there then the game's over," Taylor said. "We wouldn't get the chance to tie it. We felt like we had the momentum heading into overtime."
Taylor was frustrated at a one-touchdown performance that couldn't net 300 yards and couldn't take advantage of the Bengals bludgeoning the Chargers by an average of eight yards in field position. To have an average drive start from their own 34 and 13 points Taylor knows is not good.
""That's the most disappointing part of the game," Taylor said. "Our defense and special teams won the field position battles. We didn't capitalize on it on offense. We had some opportunities in the third quarter that we didn't connect on. That's what it comes down to."
Yet, like everyone else, Taylor was impressed with Burrow bouncing back from that bad pick and going 7-for-10 and putting them on the doorstep.
"He verified what we already knew," Taylor said. "We felt like our offense should be more explosive than it was today, especially in the first half. We found a better rhythm in the second half. But that's what we want going into the game. It just took us a while to get going.
"That's what you expect. He just moves on to the next play. I'm sure he's disappointed he had the turnover, but you don't sense that from him on the sidelines. He's focused on what he can do to fix it. He went out there and put us in a position to win or tie the game."
JONAH GETS STRONGER AS GAME GOES: In his his NFL debut, left tackle Jonah Williams unexpectedly got more of Ingram than Joey Bosa. And he played much better in the second half than he did the first. Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham observed at one point during the broadcast that Williams was playing like a first-rounder.
"They have certain rules on how they align and it is usually formation based. It's just kind of depends on what formations we were running," Williams said. "I think we settled down. Obviously we weren't protecting like we need to and we should have in the first half. Obviously they have great rushers but it really comes down to us not doing our jobs. As the game wore on we kind of settled in and started to understand how to beat this specific front. It wasn't perfect the whole game but it did get a little better as we got more comfortable."
Burrow didn't get sacked in the second half after Bosa had one of the three first-half sacks against right tackle Bobby Hart. Williams said he felt pretty comfortable with the speed of the game.
"It felt like our scrimmage, maybe a little bit faster," Williams said. "Like I said in an interview a few days ago, the fact that I get to go against a great D-line in practice is really beneficial. And if we didn't have that I think we would've struggled more against a great D-line like this."
RUN AGAIN: The Bengals spent a lot of money to fix their run defense but the Chargers still nicked them for 155 yards rushing. It was weird because the Bengals had two huge fourth-down stops as well as the one that gave Burrow one final shot with 3:08 left when their two newest tackles, Mike Daniels and Christian Covington, stuffed a third-and-one run.
Earlier, the same two had stuffed quarterback Tyrod Taylor on fourth-and-inches. And with Reader out and Geno Atkins already out, those guys were going on fumes. Daniels in particular was playing despite limping. Daniels, a former Pro Bowler, got here as training camp started and he played his role. The Bengals traded for Covington ten days ago and he looked great.
But there were still problems with missed tackles and gaps. Austin Ekeler slithered his 200 pounds for 84 yards on 19 carries and 212-pound Josh Kelley went 12 for 60.
"I think it just came down to execution for us and communication," said Josh Bynes, the Ravens middle linebacker they signed to stop the run. Kelley did a good job and did make some guys miss, especially down in the red zone he did spin out of a tackle and turned a loss into a gain of a couple of yards and just made plays.
"We gave up a 30-yard run on the short yardage to (Kelley), and we had another big one in two minute as well (in the first half)," Bynes said. "It comes down to executing those plays for everybody from the front to the linebackers to the secondary. For us to see that today we know what we need to work on moving forward. We just have to execute better and be sounder defensively, because this is just of the first of many more."
Defensive end Sam Hubbard, who played well (and who didn't? They gave up one touchdown) said it come down to consistency.
"I think we did a good job stopping the stuff we knew they were going to do. There was just a couple of plays," Hubbard said. " — like you said, I didn't see the film, I don't know what happened. The trap play was big for them. We made some adjustments and shut it down. We just gotta be more consistent. When we got a team and we're ahead, we have to put our foot on the neck and close it out. We didn't do that today."