Bengals Notebook: Not A Snap For Money Mac; Defense Stands Tall; Burrow Bounces Off Mat But Can't Get Decision

Sam Hubbard and the Bengals defense stood tall.
Sam Hubbard and the Bengals defense stood tall.

Evan McPherson had to agree.

Goofy.

The day that began with him breaking his own Bengals field-goal record with a 59-yard-first-quarter projectile ended with him yanking a 29-yard-field goal attempt that would have won it with 3:32 left in overtime of the 23-20 loss to the Steelers in front of a sold-out, all-out Paycor Stadium.

He didn't want to hear that it was a high snap that had to be pulled down by holder Kevin Huber. Or that the guy snapping was not the computer-perfect Clark Harris, he of that 202 Bengals game skein of 1,878 straight playable punt and field-goal snaps. He had snapped for McPherson's two first-half goals before injuring his bicep covering a punt.

The man snapping was backup tight end Mitchell Wilcox and he was doing it for the first game in an NFL game as an emergency, which is why he practices twice a week.

But the snap was very high and he said after the game he wished he had done more with place kicking.

"I have full trust in Mitch. At the end of the day, I just couldn't get it done," McPherson said. "Twenty-nine yards is 29 yards. I can hit that with my left foot, so there's really no excuse for me to not make that one."

Both McPherson and Wilcox faced the postgame media music. It was a year ago in this building that McPherson began the greatest rookie season an NFL kicker ever had by kicking a dozen of at least 50 yards when he hit a field goal on the last snap of overtime to beat the Vikings.

This time the Steelers' Chris Boswell did the honors with a 53-yarder.

"There was no reason to miss anything," McPherson said. "I put everything on me. I'll grow from it, learn from it and move on."

He also could have won the game with an extra point with two seconds left in regulation. It looked to be a good snap, but it wasn't at Harris' speed and Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick caught tight end Drew Sample blocking two men and he barely got his hand on the kick to deflect it.

"I think they got good penetration and I thought I hit it pretty good," McPherson said. "I thought I hit it pretty good. They must have broken clear somewhere."

Wilcox, a second-year player, was also a backup snapper in college and says he last long snapped in a college all-star game.

"We had a chance on the first one — it just got blocked," Wilcox said. "On the second one, it's on me. I've got to give Kevin [Huber] a better snap there. That's on me."

It certainly looks like McPherson is back where he started. He let last year's 58-yard club record at Mile High stand for just three regular-season games. He kicked a 65-yarder to end the fan training camp practice last month while banging three from 50 and beyond in the preseason games.

So there was really no hesitation when he and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons mulled it midway through the first quarter.

"When we're over on the border there, Darrin and I kind of make eye contact," McPherson said. "I guess if he sees I'm confident in the kick then he'll send me out there for it. I had an idea we might try it. It was kind of downwind."

If Harris is done for the year or has to go on injured reserve, head coach Zac Taylor says they'll go with rookie Cal Adomitis off the practice squad. Adomitis, the nation's best long snapper coming out of Pitt, lost the camp competition to Harris but is as an excellent candidate to develop long term.

DAY OF DEFENSE: Do you know how good your defense has to be to keep your offense in a game it turns it over five times? The Bengals have turned it over that many times in only two other openers out of 55 and the last time an NFL team won a game with a minus-five-turnover differential was nine years ago.

"Our defense played great," said quarterback Joe Burrow. "We've got to give them credit and we've just got to get it right on offense."

They didn't force a turnover and got only a sack (tackle B.J. Hill). But look at the stat sheet. They gave up a mere 267 yards, held the Steelers to four out of 15 on third down, stoned running back Najee Harris on 23 yards with 2.3 per and gave up one touchdown. They began the OT with a three-and-out where Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt (along with Mike Hilton and Logan Wilson their leading tacklers with eight) took running back Jaylen Warren and drilled him in his tracks

"They held them to 13 points until that last field goal. That's a pretty good day's work in the NFL," Taylor said." So, just didn't do enough as a team to overcome some of the adversity that we put ourselves in, didn't find a way to make a play at the end that would have won it, and that's life. We've got 16 more of these, and we'll turn around next week and start getting ready for Dallas and try to gain some momentum that way."

BURROW's TOUGH DAY: If Burrow ever showed his resilience and toughness, it was Sunday in maybe his toughest NFL loss. Despite throwing a career-high four interceptions (and that includes Athens High School) in the first 25 minutes of the season and despite getting sacked seven times and hit four more, he won the game twice with improbable drives.

Only to see a missed extra point and an even shorter field goal missed by a new kicking operation pressed into service in the second half.

"Keep being aggressive. That's what's got us in the positions that we've been in," Taylor said. "It's a really good defense, they did a good job. They were locked in. They've played us as much as anybody. They got some talented playmakers that made some really good plays, squeezing some of those routes. We made some adjustments as we went to try to put us in better positions. I wanted Joe to continue to be aggressive."

His first two snaps went coverage sack-pick-six to Fitzpatrick all over slot receiver Tyler Boyd on a throw he seemed to force.

"He made a really good play. You can tell they had a plan for that," Burrow said.

He didn't offer excuses. Not the appendectomy that took him out of the first two weeks of training camp ("No, I don't think so") or the fact the starters didn't play in the preseason.

"You don't make any excuses; it is what it is," Burrow said. "The first half didn't go our way, the second half I thought we played well."

But they couldn't score. When the finally got in the red zone on running back Joe Mixon's fourth-and-one 31-yard bolt late in the first half, they couldn't punch it with a first down from the 3. Rookie left guard Cordell Volson, making his first NFL start in his first NFL game, false started and they had to take the field goal. Then in the second half they got inside the 12 four times and could only get 14 points.

"You're going to say 'offensive struggles' — really the game should have been over on both of those, on an extra point and field goal. It just didn't work out for us this week," Taylor said.

"We just had turnovers. We moved the ball," Taylor said. "When you're in the red zone and we just had the turnovers, it's just a matter of 'Okay, let's go back and make sure we're on the same page and doing the right things.' I thought that we made some really good plays. I thought we ran the ball really well and put ourselves in some good positions."

Maybe they were rusty, but they also had 432 total yards, their third most in Opening Day history and most since head coach Sam Wyche's 1984 debut in Denver.

The coverage and the rush didn't allow for the Bengals to go deep. Burrow's longest completion was 24 yards.

"They just did a lot of two-high (safeties)," said wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase "and really, we just tried to move everybody around, use short routes and get everybody underneath, and we didn't hit too many whole shots today. We tried to go in the middle of the field to attack the safeties."

Chase had another immense day with 10 catches for 129 yards, including the one that should have won it on the last play of regulation, a six-yard touchdown pass Burrow knifed between Chase and the right front pylon.

(He also had a frustrating day. On the series before he drew a taunting penalty on a failed fourth-down attempt in the end zone and pulled the mouthpiece out of cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon's mouth because "he was taunting me.")

But it looked like Chase had won it moments earlier when he fried cornerback Cameron Sutton for what appeared to be a 13-yard touchdown when he went over the pylon. But he didn't think he was in. Taylor wondered if he should have called for a challenge after the Bengals were first and an inch and didn't score.

"Part of it was that that's the hardest place for us to see in the entire field is that spot," Taylor said. "I didn't think there was a chance there was a touchdown there initially. So, we got on the ball to run it in quickly. It's hard with all the craziness in that moment, all the communication to get that 'Stop, stop. Let's evaluate this.' We just couldn't get it done fast enough by the time we'd seen a replay and realized 'Oh shoot, he might have gotten in there.' We've just got to learn from those. It's a fine line — when you get the ball on the inch, you just want to punch it in real quick. In hindsight, maybe he was in and we could have given ourselves a chance."

TIME DRAIN: When the Bengals had to punt with 1:04 left in OT (after Burrow couldn't unload the ball before getting sacked in field-goal range on a safety blitz), Wilcox snapped it with 13 seconds left on the play clock, an eternity in a game won on a 53-yarder on the last play.

Taylor pointed to the new operation.

"Not ideal," Taylor said. "I understand that, trust me, we'd rather do something different. But just trying to make sure the operation ran smoothly, it turned out that we sacrificed some seconds just to make sure that we were all on the same page there."

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