Joe Burrow, re-writing the NFL rookie record book, could use an editor for the last 11 seconds or so of his home games.
He'd be 3-0 at Paul Brown Stadium if the officials didn't overturn his winning touchdown pass with seven seconds left in the opener. And if Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield didn't steal Burrow's first 400-yard game with his fifth touchdown pass Sunday with 11 seconds remaining, just 55 seconds after Burrow had led the Bengals to a go-ahead score.
Instead of celebrating a win over an AFC North rival with the best passing game ever by a Bengals rookie (406 yards on 35 of 47 passing), they were trying to figure out another close one, 37-34, the fourth loss this season within a touchdown.
But what they're not talking about re-writing is head coach Zac Taylor's playbook.
Wide receiver A.J. Green, who has been here for two division titles and an 8-0 start, had another big day with seven catches for 82 yards and is starting to see a pattern.
"Just got to make the plays. Simple as that," Green said. "I've been a part of some good offenses, and this is probably one of the best ones I've been a part of. What we're putting up and doing as a whole unit."
This is what Taylor's offense is supposed to do.
A red carpet in the red zone with seven trips inside the 20. Six receivers with at least 52 yards. Coming up with the second best day of the season with 468 yards without leading rusher Joe Mixon. Conjuring up clever and countless screens to offset the damage of losing two offensive linemen late in the first half against a defense blitzing more than it ever did. A creative, unconventional fourth-and-one-go-for-it-all pass with 66 seconds left.
"We tried to just do whatever the defense was giving us. At that time, it was Zac called a screen," Green said. "Zac has a great feel for the game and what we call at certain times."
Now his defense, smoldering in the ruins of Mayfield's 22 consecutive completions, not counting the spike that set up the 22nd and winner, is trying to find the answers.
But if Taylor is under fire out there, they've got his back in here.
"We have a bunch of great guys in the locker room. And a great coaching staff. Zac is going to get us to where we want to go," Burrow said. "I know everyone is down in the dumps right now. The fan base is frustrated, just as we are. We're 1-5-1, but we have a great guy at the helm in Zac, who called a great game today. He's going to keep us together. He's the leader of the team, the leader of the organization."
Slot receiver Tyler Boyd, tying his personal best 11 catches for 101 more yards that keeps him on the road for a third straight 1,000-yard season, saw that the Cleveland secondary didn't have many answers for him, Green and rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins, 71 yards and another touchdown.
"We knew that with the talent that we've got they can't match us. We knew when we went empty and spread they were going to play a lot of zone, because they can't (cover) us man," Boyd said. "They went man a few times. It's kind of hard to game plan a team like us and I think the game plan was at the top today."
"We were dicing them up the whole game. They couldn't stop us regardless of what we were doing. Everything we were calling was working. We took a hard loss and the offense played unbelievable and I believe that in the defense as well, we just have to figure out a way to get more one final stop or one more score."
That utility out there was Taylor's kitchen sink, the one that took the Myles Garrett runoff. With two sacks, one a sack-strip that gave the Browns a field goal, Garrett threatened to run away with game in the first half. Especially with left tackle Jonah Williams (neck) on the bench and Fred Johnson at left tackle. But those screens (and it was more of those than runs on a day where Burrow was their second-leading rusher) helped keep Garrett at bay.
"That's what was gashing them when they were blitzing. We called screens, and got them in blitzes a lot, so that got them away from the blitzing," Burrow said. "That was a good part of the game plan today."
He threw screens to everyone. They accounted for much of tight end Drew Sample's 52 yards. Running back Giovani Bernard broke one for 25 yards. Bernard and Boyd hooked up for the ultimate X-and-O screen off a double pass. Burrow slinging a lateral across the field to Boyd and then Boyd, the old Clairton High option quarterback, gunning it across back to Bernard and he was off for 16 more yards.
"Going into the game we kind of knew how they were going to play certain things. Screens, defense is going to swarm to the ball," Boyd said. "So we knew if we had a shot at throwing a quick screen out there to me everyone would trigger. It would kind of set up to make it look like we were throwing to A.J. on the high cross. Everybody, there was like three, two people on him. So that's easier to throw back across the field to Gio to make a huge play."
The frustration spewed, but there was also trust. Fourth-and-one trust. On the Browns 3. Just 1:09 left and Burrow talking to Taylor in a timeout and everyone expecting the quarterback sneak that had got the first touchdown on two tries.
"Sneaks aren't great against every front, though. You have to actually see what they're in before you just put the football in the referee's hands, you know?" Taylor said. "That was not an option right there. You can call a sneak and hope that the ref is on your side for that one play, but we felt good about the play call there."
It, was, as they say, not unbrave. Burrow sent Bernard wide right with running back Samaje Perine behind him. Bernard came back in motion with Burrow calmly stomping his feet like a stoop singer. Then Bernard, who had not caught a touchdown pass in more than three years, juked back right and shot to the outside as Burrow play-faked, rolled out and guided it to Bernard half-a-step before safety Andrew Sendejo could get back.
" Gio. Gio made it work. Gio did a heck of the job with the motion," Taylor said. "At first, he's motioning across and the safety didn't run with him. I was concerned there for a moment — we've got other options — but he sold it, he lost his man, and then was free in the flat. So it was really good execution by all those guys, but I'd give most of the credit to Gio there."
But ask Bernard, and this is where the trust thing comes in, and he credits Taylor. He was far from surprised at the fourth-and-one fling.
"I think one of the things I appreciate is Coach Taylor giving me that opportunity to do the play and to have called it," Bernard said. "It's one of those situations on a play that you work on for a while and you bring it out when you need it most and it worked. I just appreciate Coach Taylor for giving me the opportunity. I had a chance to talk with him earlier this week. How I played last week, I was not happy with how I performed. I'm just thankful that he gave me an opportunity to help this team win.
"Not surprise. It was more of like a trust."
Bernard, like Boyd, Green and Burrow, has signed up for this kind of offense.
"Ever since he came in last year, I have always been a firm believer in what he's doing, what he's implementing into this organization. And how he runs it and he conducts everything," Bernard said. "For me, I'm in it. I see it every single day. So it's not a surprise to me. It's just a matter of being able to fill in the pieces and executing. He's been a very detailed person Day 1. And that's what we need to have this type of offense that he wants to implement -- detailed guys, guys that are going to be in the right spot at the right time at the right call. I feel like we have those type of players. We've just got to continue to keep working and chipping away at it.
"Obviously we've come up short. We know it. It sucks. We hate the feeling. But all we can do is just continue to keep working."
They feel lousy. The only way a one-win team should feel. But Green, the 10-year Pro Bowl vet, the guy his teammates call, "Dream" is also looking forward to the next game plan.
"We just find open guys. That's one thing about this offense, you just never know when your day is," Green said. "Joe does a great job of spreading the ball around. You can see Tee and TB made some big plays for us. Gio, Drew, we got everybody involved today."