Just when it seemed OK on Sunday to write the words, "Let The Legend Begin," the Bengals would take the pen out of your hand and scrawl something else during a strange game with the Eagles that fittingly ended in a 23-23 knot of angst for the winless teams.
If this was the day in Philadelphia for Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow to get his first NFL win, wasn't this it?
Here he was pulling a Brett Favre, taking a hellacious, knock-your-wind-out-of-your-franchise hit that sent him to the sidelines for a play and then returning to give his team a 10-6 halftime lead with 1:29 left in the first half.
There he was pulling a Tom Brady after a slow start and sifting 13 of 13 in the guts of the game to get them back into the lead heading into the fourth quarter.
And, dare we say it, there he was pulling a Patrick Mahomes with about seven minutes left and up four at his own 40. Burrow spun away from the clutches of monstrous tackle Fletcher Cox and raced out of the right side of the pocket, where linebacker T.J. Edwards was closing in. But Burrow pirouetted with his knee nearly scraping the ground, straightened up at the sideline and found rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins for a 20-yard play opposite him on the sideline.
But, to sum up the day, really, it was wiped out when it was ruled Higgins went out of bounds before he came back on the field to make the catch.
"I mean I'm just going to try and make as many plays as I can. Zac (Taylor) was yelling at me to throw the ball out of bounds on that one," Burrow said of his head coach. "I looked at him and gave him a little wink after that play. So that was a bright spot of the day."
That's how the day should have ended. With a wink and a nod to the future. Instead, it was an eye-opening exercise of what ails Burrow's first team right this minute.
On Sunday he was strait-jacketed by pass protection that allowed him to get sacked eight times and hit more than that. And the defense couldn't hold the leads he gave them at the end of the half and the game.
In the first half a lack of communication in the secondary resulted in Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz getting a wide-open 29-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds left and give Philly a 13-10 halftime lead. When Wentz got the ball back with 3:05 left in the game, down 23-16, pass interference penalties on cornerbacks William Jackson III (19 yards) and Darius Phillips (9) greased his tying seven-yard touchdown scramble with 21 seconds left.
"I would say at the end of the first half, we kicked the ball out of bounds and gave them the ball at the 40 right away. Then the first run got them down to [our] 40," Taylor said. "So right away, you put yourself in a tough spot, then they took a shot in the disguised coverage we had there. I certainly wouldn't say those first two plays were what we wanted."
Taylor had to take a raincheck to explain that last drive of regulation because at one point it all seemed like everything bled into overtime.
After Higgins, in what was his coming out party with five catches, 40 yards and two touchdowns, caught an 11-yard slant and the Eagles mauled him for a penalty, the Bengals had first and four from the 4. Four yards away from the win with a TD to go up at least 10. But they had to settle for Randy Bullock's field goal with 3:05 left for their fourth straight scoring drive.
But from that point on the Eagles 4 on their final 18 snaps, the Bengals had two penalties on right guard Billy Price, four sacks and two first downs.
""That's probably where we got a lot of the protection issues," Taylor said. "There were also a ton of close calls in the pass game. I can think of probably four of them off the top of my head where we just have to make a play. We're right there. Someone just has to step up and make that play. It puts us in a scoring position and helps us win the game."
So there's no question what the major issue is. The offensive line is reeling after Price replaced struggling Fred Johnson in the second half and couldn't contain Cox.
Right tackle Bobby Hart had a tough time with Brandon Graham. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz delighted in appearing to blitz more than he has this season. Safety Jalen Mills had 1.5 sacks and the ends, Graham and Derek Barnett, each had two. After giving up a sack to end Josh Sweat early, left tackle Jonah Williams settled down but when they tried to block Barnett once with tight end Drew Sample, it didn't work.
And when running back Joe Mixon could manage just 49 yards on 17 carries a week after the Rams gouged Philly on 191 rushing yards, Taylor knows the problem.
Like right guard.
"We're trying to figure that out. That's something we'll keep evaluating," Taylor said. "We can't just have a free runner, a three-technique come clean every single time. That's something we got to fix right away. I don't care what play you call; you're going to have problems when you can't block a guy for a second. That part is frustrating, so we just have to continue to prove it and give ourselves a better chance to win."
The frustration is even evident in the antiseptic Zoom calls. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who has become Burrow's wingman as A.J. Green continues to try and get acclimated after a two-year layoff, is watching Burrow take hit after hit.
"It sucks. It hurts me because I know how much Joe wants to win. I know how much he dedicate himself to this game and the pressure that he has coming to this team," Boyd said after his 125-yard day on ten catches. "He feels that we should win each game. If we get the final drive he believes we are going to win. That's what I love about him. To see him take those hits and for him go down and for him to get injured, it hurts. It makes me want to fight whoever done anything to him. We have to figure a way to protect him and figure a way to make tough catches on our end as well. "
It was Boyd that came to bail out Burrow as he rolled away from trouble in the pocket early in the second quarter. And as Burrow threw a five-yarder over the middle to him, defensive tackle Malik Jackson launched himself into Burrow's chest and he flew into the air rag-dollish.
"I didn't actually see the shot," Boyd said. "Joe is one of the toughest guys I've been around and I haven't really been around him for too long. But to see that and knowing how much he wants to win gives me that something in me that's like, 'Oh man, this is my brother, I'm riding for him no matter what and whoever's done that, we've to get you back.'
Burrow continues to take each shot, each sack in stride.
"I got the wind knocked out of me for about 10 seconds," Burrow said. "They told me I had to go out for a play. I was good after that."
What seemed to hurt him were all the blown chances. Both of their interceptions put them at the Eagles 44 and they only got three points out of it. They only got three points out of their final drive of regulation even though they had a first down on the Eagles 4.
Or how about getting the ball with 6:57 left in OT at their own 41, merely 25 yards from the winning field goal? And they went backward on a Price holding call and a sack.
"You know we have to convert in those situations," Burrow said. "We got into a pretty good rhythm there in the third quarter. If we punch that one red zone drive in where we ended up settling for the field goal, then we win this game. We had a good rhythm going there for part of that game."
Burrow outplayed Carson Wentz. The numbers said so. He completed 31 of 44 passes for 312 yards, two TDs and no picks for a 105.5 passer rating, upping his season's 5.3 yards per attempt to Sunday's 7.1. Wentz was merely 29 of 47 for 225 yards, a TD and two picks for a 63.8 rating. But he ran for 65 yards and didn't get sacked eight times.
Burrow is getting comfortable with Boyd and Higgins, but Green doesn't have a catch beyond 15 yards. Boyd's 25-yard catch to set up the go-ahead score in the third quarter is the only 20-yard catch by a receiver this year. On Sunday, Burrow simply didn't have the time to go longer.
"There were a couple of times today that they were playing 1-hole. Which means everyone is man-to-man and they have a free guy in the middle," Burrow said. "He was working to A.J.'s side. They did that a few times today.
"I'm going to get the ball out of my hands quickly if I'm feeling pressure. At times when you'd like to throw the ball down the field, those opportunities didn't present themselves. Then I think I can do a better job of making one or two guys miss in the pocket and doing better in the scramble drill."
And when they did have time, they just missed it. Like near the end of overtime. Hidden in between the two sacks that ended their last drive. Burrow made a Herculean throw to Higgins down the middle that would have put them near field-goal range on something like a 35-yarder. A hell of a throw. Higgins probably should have had it. But it was just short enough where cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman could get a hand in there.
"I know Tee was frustrated with that one. He had a great game," Burrow said. "He ran some great routes. Tee's a competitor. He was frustrated with that one. If that one didn't happen, it would have been an awesome game for his first start. I know he was frustrated with that one."
Boyd knew frustration, too, despite his ten catches. Not to win an NFL game despite being plus-two in takeaways is heresy.
"We just have to be sound. Every guy got to do their job each play," Boyd said. "We can't just have an explosive gain and then come back and give up a sack. We can't play behind the sticks. If we continue to move the chain yard by yard we will be a high-powered offense but we have to figure out among ourselves."
If Burrow was sore Sunday, he wasn't showing it. Except for the score.
"It'll never be about momentum or positive experiences to me," Burrow said. "I'm about winning. I expect to win. I know we expect to win. No moral victories around here."
Not to mention moral ties.