Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow added to the legend Monday night in the game he refused to miss when he gutted out the win the Bengals had to have to avoid 0-3 as he negotiated a 19-16 victory over the Rams.
Burrow had plenty of help from his friends.
With Ring of Honor inductee Chad Johnson wearing his No. 1 jersey, Ja'Marr Chase put on one of the great performances by a Bengals wide receiver with 12 catches for 141 yards, and running back Joe Mixon drained the second half clock while scoring Cincy's only touchdown of the game before finishing with 65 yards on 19 carries.
But the night belonged to the defense with right end Trey Hendrickson's two sacks and middle linebacker Logan Wilson's two interceptions (one off a tipped pass by slot cornerback Mike Hilton) keeping the brilliance of Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford out of the end zone. The Rams came in leading the NFL in efficiency on third down and in the red zone and they stoned the Rams on 1 of 11 on third down and held them to 1-for-4 in the red zone. But it took Stafford's third-and-one touchdown pass to wide receiver Tutu Atwell with 63 seconds left to get even the ones.
And there was special teams. Evan McPherson coaxed the second of his two 50-yarders from 54 off the right upright for his fourth field goal of the night with 7:13 left for the winning points set up by rookie wide receiver Charlie Jones' 19-yard punt return. Then tight end Mitchell Wilcox covered the on-side kick to end it.
Burrow had a stiff upper lip with his strained calf, finishing 26 of 49 for 259 yards and a miraculous fourth-quarter interception rendered meaningless by the marauding defense that held Stafford to a 66.4 passer rating while sacking him six times
They again stiffed the NFL's best red zone touchdown team early in the second half, holding them to a third field goal on another sack by the rampaging Hendrickson as he continually took advantage of backup a left tackle.
And this time the Bengals converted it into the game's first touchdown as Burrow and Chase began to take over. On third-and-ten, Burrow feathered a back-shoulder ball over the middle on third-and-ten for 13 yards, allowing Chase to reach behind him for the first down.
Then Mixon gave them their first lead of the season on a vintage cut-and-burst for a 14-yard touchdown and a 13-9 edge with 5:35 left in the third quarter. Mixon went left as tight end Drew Sample and left tackle Orlando Brown, Jr. sealed and as right guard Alex Cappa pulled, Mixon cut it back and ended up scaling the end zone wall to celebrate with the faithful.
Then Burrow found the explosive that had been missing all year. Chase, whose longest catch of the year had been 13 yards, more than tripled the fun on misdirection play-action. He caught a 43-yarder wide open down the right sideline to set up McPherson's 48-yarder to make it 16-9 late in the third quarter.
The Bengals offense has yet to come up with a touchdown in the first half and penalties doomed them Monday. They had three false starts on third down and when it looked like Burrow had uncorked his longest pass of the season, a 38-yarder to wide receiver Tee Higgins down the right side that put the ball on the Rams 1, Higgins was called for throwing down cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
That spoiled the great field position Wilson gave them with his first interception of the season on a sliding scoop. Wilson, who came into the season leading all NFL linebackers with interceptions in the 2020s, put the Bengals at the Rams 41. But they went backward because of the penalty and had to punt.
The game Burrow took what the Rams secondary gave him, which wasn't much. He threw only two balls longer than 15 yards and didn't get a 20-yard completion until tight end Tanner Hudson caught a 26-yarder over the middle in the last minute of the half. He overthrew Chase on a third down but also lost a first down when the usually reliable Higgins dropped one over the middle as he finished the half 17 of 31 for 144 yards.
The Bengals did what they did last season when they were 0-2 and playing the Jets in New York. They won the toss and took the ball, which they would do every time they won the flip for the rest of the season. They scored a touchdown on that first series and went on to win, 27-16
Not Monday, Burrow hit three of his first four for 27 yards, including short throws to slot receiver Tyler Boyd and to Charlie Jones for his first NFL catch.
But Chase was well covered over the middle and couldn't reel one in and on third down, Hudson, in his Bengals debut with Irv Smith Jr. (hamstring inactive), stumbled as the ball went incomplete. The Bengals tried a 56-yarder and McPherson hooked it right, his second miss from beyond 50 this season after he came into the year 14 of 16 from long distance. He got it back right in the second half.
The Rams converted a short field goal to take a 3-0 lead on the first series and you can thank the former Ram safety Nick Scott that it wasn't 7-0. Atwell, the scat receiver, scalded them on a 24-yard touchdown off a reverse, but the hustling Scott barely nudged him out of bounds at the 2 and the touchdown was reversed.
Bengals nose tackle DJ Reader then made them pay with a first-down sack and the Rams settled for three.
The Bengals struggled with penalties on third down. The second drive died when a third-and-one became a three-and-out with consecutive false starts on Mixon and left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Burrow went six of six on the next drive with those short throws on a grinding 12-play, 48-yard drive that stalled when Boyd false-started on a third-and-six. But McPherson rescued them with a 49-yard field goal that tied it at three.
The Bengals' longest completion in the first half before the last drive was 13 yards as the ESPN crew droned on about Burrow's lack of training camp. Instead, it was the Rams who came up with the explosives early. Atwell got matched up with linebacker Germaine Pratt in a zone and rattled off a 34-yarder that set up a field goal when the Bengals came up with another red zone stop.
And the Bengals delivered another winning effort in the half. Hendrickson had a couple of third-down pressures and safety Dax Hill set up a long third down with his second-down blitz sack. Hill was all over the place in the half with five tackles and finished with eight, two for a loss.