The Bengals gave sun-splashed-sauna-like jam-packed Paul Brown Stadium all it could handle in Sunday's thrill ride of an overtime opener won by rookie kicker Evan McPherson on the last play of overtime for a 27-24 win over the Vikings on a 33-yard field goal.
Joe Burrow limped off the field after the fourth of Minnesota's five sacks but bounded off the exercise bike to complete a nervy-knee buckling fourth-and-one-throw to set up McPherson's heroics. Burrow finished off his return on a seamless 20 of 27 for 261 yards and no turnovers.
Burrow got sacked for the last time (defensive tackle Michael Pierce got his second on a slow developing play) to end their first overtime series, but the defense countered to force a punt. The problem was it was Jordan Berry's 62-yarder that put the Bengals on their own 10.
The Bengals, who went one of their last eight on third downs, misfired here when Burrow tried to hit rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase over the middle and he was covered by three defenders.
With the Vikings zeroing in on the winning field goal, the Bengals defense forced the first turnover of the game with 1:48 left in regulation. Free safety Jessie Bates III converged on running back Dalvin Cook and both he and linebacker Germaine Pratt appeared to team to force the fumble and Pratt recovered at the Bengals 39.
They needed about 25 yards to get in McPherson's range for the winner and they ended up facing a third-and-two from their own 47.
Joe Mixon, (29-127) the first Bengals running back to have a 100-yard opener in 10 years since Cedric Benson, ended up fourth and a chain link shy on his two carries that came after a pitch-and-catch six yards to Chase. Then Burrow shocked the world and lofted a play-action 32-yard beauty to tight end C.J. Uzomah on fourth-and-one to set up McPherson.
It looked like the Bengals had the Vikings right where they wanted them with 1:48 left in regulation after punter Kevin Huber pinned them on the 4 with no timeouts left.
But the Bengals defense, brilliant much of the day, couldn't get the one play until the turnover. They missed on two huge fourth downs and either one would have won the game for them in regulation .
The last one was the killer as they saw their 24-14 late in the third quarter evaporate. On fourth-and-four from his own 45, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins wedged in a short, quick throw over the middle and wide receiver K.J. Osborn stretched out and caught it and Greg Joseph hammered the tying field goal at the gun from 53 yards out.
Check out some of the best game action photos as the Bengals opened the 2021 regular season at home against the Minnesota Vikings.
It came down to fourth down for two riverboat gamblers named Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer Sunday on the banks of the Ohio River.
The Bengals were riding the surging play of Burrow and Chase as they broke to a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter. In fact, Burrow had just been sacked for the third time (this time by a seemingly unblocked blocked Pierce) when Chase got all but one yard on a great catch-and-run over the middle that put him five yards away from a 100-yard game in his debut. He finished with 101 on five catches for the second best debut by a Bengals receiver.
That gave them a fourth-and one from their own 30 with 3:20 left in the third quarter. Taylor went with the extra lineman and ran behind Isaiah Prince, but there was no room for and Minnesota had a gimmie.
But the Vikes had to convert a fourth-and-four of their own from the Bengals 24 as Zimmer eschewed the field goal. Wide receiver Adam Thielen lined up in the slot, beat slot cornerback Mike Hilton inside and no one was home in the middle of the field for a 24-yard touchdown pass that made it 21-14 with 51 seconds left in the third.
Mixon had 82 yards on his first 17 carries and most of them came in the second half on a 90-degree playing surface. McPherson then gave them a 10-point lead with just over 14 minutes left on his first NFL field-goal try, a 53-yard bomb.
Then the Bengals defense (which drew six holding calls with six minutes still left in the game) faltered for the first time all day. After Trey Hendrickson kept the drive alive when a third-down stop was negated by his illegal hands to the face penalty, wide receiver Justin Jefferson got more yards than he did all day on a 34-yard catch and run that set up the touchdown that made it 24-21.
How many times did we see this happen last year to the Bengals? A late, long score against them in the last minute of the first half? A deflating touchdown drive to start the second half and put them down by double digits?
That's what the Bengals did when Burrow's eyes lit up with Chase strafing Breeland on a go route down the right side and floating it into his arms for the lead.
That gave Chase three catches for 80 yards, more than the 65 yards Cris Collnsworth had in his debut 40 years ago.
Then the Bengals jammed it down the field to take a 21-7 lead with Mixon doing the bulk of the work to milk the clock with the stretch run. He scored on a two-yard touchdown run, but not before Burrow hit wide receiver Tee Higgins for 28 yards.