Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow didn't disappoint when he started the season scoring on a 23-yard touchdown run off a quarterback draw, but it was two defensive stands on fourth down that gave the Bengals a 7-6 halftime lead over the Chargers in Sunday's opener at empty Paul Brown Stadium.
Yet as well as the new-look defense played, their end of half and game miseries continued. The Chargers had the ball on their own 14 with 33 seconds left and were able to get Michael Badgley's 43-yard field goal on the last play of the half knowing they would receive the second-half kickoff.
In an amazing moment about 25 minutes before kickoff, the Bengals and Chargers lined up on opposite goal lines for the playing of "Lift Every Voice," a moment made even more powerful by the hush of an empty stadium.
The Bengals were lined up across the goal line nearest their locker room that led into an end zone with the words. "End Racism." The Chargers stood in front of an end zone that said, "It Takes All Of Us."
Minutes later they linked arms with the Chargers at midfield for the national anthem.
The last-play field goal was fueled by this play:
Chargers quarterback Tryod Taylor sidestepped Carl Lawson's rush and when he got out of pocket he saw wide-open tight end Hunter Henry wide open for a 33-yard play that appeared to be the result of a lack of communication as rookie linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither and strong safety Vonn Bell converged on the play.
Although the Chargers offensive line was the one injured and re-shuffled, Taylor (10 of 20 in the half for 120 yards), he had better time than Burrow. With Chargers sack ace Joey Bosa lining up more often in front of Bengals right tackle Bobby Hart instead of left tackle Jonah Williams, Burrow was chased all over the yard. He was nine of 14 for 51 yards in his first NFL half and even though the Bengals were running quick throws, they couldn't be quick enough on third-and-long.
According to the Bengals radio team, the Bengals averaged just 1.4 yards on 10 first-down plays, eight of them passes. Running back Joe Mixon could only get enough traction for 30 yards on nine carries.
The legend began when Burrow cashed a second-and-10 quarterback draw for a 23-yard touchdown run up the middle that gave the Bengals a 7-0 lead with 2:24 left in the first quarter.
Burrow went five wides to spread the field and when he bolted up the middle, he patiently waited for center Trey Hopkins to bury safety Rayhawn Jenkins. With his hand calmly on Hopkins' back, he made a cut to the left at about the 15 and he was gone.
Naturally, it was made possible by wide receiver A.J. Green's third catch in his first game back in 21 months. It was a slant on third-and-two and went for 13 yards, but it Hart that made it possible. It was third-and-seven when he pointed a neutral zone violation. Green finished the half with three catches for 28 yards.
Green's first reception came off a zone read pass option as Burrow pulled it out of Mixon's belly and it accounted for Burrow's first first down, an 11-yarder on a vintage Green-esque ding slant.
Then they quickly went play-action to Mixon with Burrow dumping a seven-yard screen pass to tight end Drew Sample fueled by Hart's block on linebacker Drue Tranquill. It was a tough play for Tranquill, a starting linebacker lost for the day when he was carted off the field.
But after Mixon chewed up six yards on a run up the middle, the drive blew up on the ensuing play. The Bengals went five wide, but Jonah Williams allowed Joey Bosa to get pressure right away and Burrow tried to make something out of nothing. Tackle Jerry Tillery, coming from the other side, dumped him for a 14-yard loss.
But on the next series the Bengals forced a three-and-out after stuffing a first down run. On third-and-four Davis-Gaither screeched in untouched on a blitz and forced Taylor to overthrow wide receiver Keenan Allen covered tightly by cornerback Mackensie Alexander.
Burrow suffered another three-and-out when there was first down-pressure against an empty back-field set, the Chargers weren't fooled on a misdirection pitch to Mixon and on third-and-long Bosa again flushed out Burrow and that forced Burrow to throw a ball behind the line of scrimmage to Mixon that Mixon had to jump on to prevent the four-yard loss from being a turnover.
But the defense pitched another three-and-out with the aid of the Chargers' crowd-less false start on third down when the Bengals put 10 men on the line. Cornerback Darius Phillips then prevented the first down when he came from behind went over wide receiver Mike Williams' shoulder to knock away a pass over the middle.
The Bengals then had great field position after defensive end Sam Hubbard made a great play on fourth-and-two and got the ball back at the Cincy 40 when he forced Taylor to cut on the option and he slipped and lost a yard.
Check out some of the best images from the Bengals week 1 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers. Who Dey!
But after Burrow converted a third-and-three on a quick flip to running back Giovani Bernard, the drive crumbled when they couldn't get in favorable down and distance. Hart false started and on third-and-11 Bosa roared up the field on Hart and sacked Burrow.
Punter Kevin Huber, having a great opening half in his 12th opening day for the Bengals, gave them a chance to down it inside the 5 but they couldn't get there.
Taylor then made his biggest throw of the day when he got into the red zone when he hit Mike Williams for a 36-yard-play down the right sideline with a throw over Phillips. When free safety Jessie Bates came over to deliver the hit, he was called for unnecessary roughness.
But the Bengals only allowed a field goal when the Chargers couldn't overcome an offensive pass interference call.
Another Burrow drive was broken up by more pressure when he was forced out of the pocket on third-and-six and his scramble was two yards shy.
The Bengals were lined up against a re-shuffled Chargers offensive line missing four-time Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey and five-time Pro Bowl right guard Trai Turner. That meant left guard Dan Feeney had to move to center and backup guard Forrest Lamp had to replace him in in his third NFL stat. Ryan Groy, a seven-year veteran, drew his 18th career NFL start
to replace Thomas at right guard when he got called up from the practice start.
Plus, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, along with Turner one of their prized free-agent acquisitions after 111 starts in Green Bay, has been struggling with a hamstring and was limited in Friday's practice.
The Bengals just couldn't take advantage of the fourth-down stops. On fourth-and-inches from the Bengals 40 late in the half, new tackles Mike Daniels and Christian Covington stoned Taylor on a sneak.