Behind a makeshift offensive line and a pick-your-poison playbook, rookie quarterback Joe Burrow and his Bengals hatched a remarkable 31-20 victory over the AFC South-leading Titans Sunday at wind-blown Paul Brown Stadium.
Safety Brandon Wilson's 49-yard kick return early in the fourth quarter set up a touchdown that put them over 30 points for the third time in five games. The drive featured one of the more stunning plays in recent memory on third-and-nine. With wide receiver Tyler Boyd mauled in coverage, Burrow drilled a strike and Boyd didn't see it until the last instant as he pirouetted away and caught it as he looked up at the same time.
They got the touchdown on Burrow's six-yard flip to running back Giovani Bernard to make it 31-14 with 7:30 left.
Burrow went 26 of 37 for 249 yards and two touchdowns and that last throw sealed it, a rather brave back-shoulder throw to wide receiver Auden Tate on third-and-six from his 32 with 2:08 left.
Burrow, who didn't get sacked, 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 the freshly signed Quinton 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. Billy Price made his first start at center since the finale of his rookie season in 2018.
It didn't matter. They rolled up 367 yards and kept the ball away from the Titans' 441-yard offense with nearly 36 minutes of possession. Running back Derrick Henry had 100 yards (112 on 18 carries), but quarterback Ryan Tanehill was just 18 of 30 and 10 points below his season passer rating.
Boyd (six catches for 67 yards), held to two catches for 20 yards late in the third quarter, came into the game second in the NFL for first down catches and Burrow knew where to go on third-and-three from the Titans 40 and up, 17-7.
Boyd caught this first down over the middle for nine yards just as Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro delivered an illegal shot to his head.
That rolled them into the fourth quarter and the red zone with a 25 mile-per-hour-wind at their backs. After wide receiver A.J. Green flinched in the slot, Boyd got most of the 15 yards on a route over the middle with the help of running Giovani Bernard's block.
Then on third-and-one from the 7, Burrow rolled out to his right, saw Boyd and rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins fanning out in the end zone and sifted his first touchdown pass of the day when Boyd cut to the right corner beating old friend Johnathan Joseph.
Burrow was six of seven in the drive for 67 yards at his All-Conference point guard best, getting a huge contested, diving catch from Green for 13 yards and some more from wide receiver Auden Tate, who ended the drive with five catches for 46 yards.
Behind that reconfigured front, Burrow played pitch and catch out of the shotgun, getting it out of his hand as quickly as he got it from Price, And when he needed the time the kids up front (right guard Alex Redmond's 22 Bengals starts were the most) gave it to him. Bernard finished with 62 yards on 15 carries and for the second straight game Burrow spread the wealth, this time with three receivers grabbing at least 65 yards, led by Higgins' 78 on six catches, Boyd's six for 67 and Tate's seven for 65.
On the first series of the second half, the Titans were driving into field-goal range, but they suffered a holding penalty and then two of the Bengals' free-agent defensive backs made back-to-back plays to force a punt. On second-and-12, slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander came up to make a tackle for no gain and on third down Bell knocked away a pass for wide receiver A.J. Brown.
Then on the next series on third-and-eight, Bell pulled off a blitz up the middle and rookie linebacker Logan Wilson delayed before roaring up behind him for his first NFL sack to force a punt on the Bengals' first sack in two weeks and more than 90 passes.
Gameday photos as the Cincinnati Bengals host the Tennessee Titans in Week 8 of the 2020 NFL season.