DETROIT - They won't say Zac Taylor is too conservative this week.
The Bengals head coach took some heat after last Sunday's loss in overtime to Green Bay for some cautious play calling on third down. But there's a big difference between overtime and being at the Detroit 40 up 10-0 on the first drive of the second half.
And that's when Taylor opted to go for it on fourth-and-one in a heavy formation. Not with a Joe Burrow sneak, but with Burrow's play-action fake on a jet sweep to wide receiver Tee Higgins running right to left before Burrow rolled to the right and found running back Joe Mixon all by himself in the flat for a catch-and-run touchdown. Courtesy of rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase's block at the five-yard line.
"We really schemed that fourth down up to Joe Mixon," Burrow said. "That was a great play call by Zac that we were ready for all week."
They worked the fourth-and-one all week, but Chase didn't know he'd have to make that block on that play.
"Just a bunch of motions really, and the people that needed to execute, were Joe and Joe," Taylor said. "And really, Ja'Marr was the second man in the progression that we were going to get to that. It's kind of funny because on a separate play earlier in the week we told Ja'Marr we were going to need an assist from him. We anticipated somebody else scoring and we're going to need an assist from him. It was different than how we thought it would unfold but Ja'Marr shows up and gets that big block and Joe plays off of it."
Chase knew this play was coming, he just didn't know he'd be blocking safety Will Harris at the 5-yard line.
"Actually, I didn't think I would have to block like that," Chase said. "But we did have that play in the game plan for exactly fourth down. It worked perfect."
On the play before, third-and-two, Mixon picked up just a yard, but it seemed Taylor had made that call knowing he was going for it on fourth.
"We got a peak at the front," Taylor said of the fourth-down play. "We just felt good about running that there. We had the two short yardage plays, we felt good about the play call there. We had a sense they were in man coverage when we broke the huddle with the corners. As long as we just got the edge, and Joe got the opportunity."
EVANS HAS A DAY: What a day rookie running back Chris Evans had. He got the Bengals on the board with his first NFL touchdown, a 24-yard beauty down the left sideline frying the linebacker.
Then as if to underscore the dangerous versatility of this offense, everybody was talking about his blitz pickup on the 53-yarder to Chase. Throw in a team-high three special teams tackles and his first four NFL carries for 18 yards and that's a day.
Since Evans, a sixth-rounder, played his college ball at Michigan, there was some local interest about what is viewed as his break-out game.
"It's not a breakout game for us. This is what you all that have been at practice and training camp have seen is running a double-move like that and creating separation," Taylor said. "That's a tough matchup for other teams. And for him to finish that play was a big deal.
"You get a saw-dog against a pressure, that's usually where some of the sacks have come for us early in the season, catch some pressures on some of our play-action stuff. Joe (Burrow) did a great job stepping up (in the pocket) … Chris stepping up and covering up the nickel (cornerback) and giving Joe a chance to step up there."
Maybe the most appreciative guy was Burrow.
"I want to mention Chris Evans. He's just getting better and better every single week," Burrow said. "You see what he can do in the pass game. He got one-on-one and really, really ran a great route and scored a touchdown for us. And then on the big throw to Ja'Marr in the second half, he picked up a safety pressure off the edge that was really unbelievable."