Head coach Zac Taylor needed six seconds as the first half died Sunday at Mile High. Joe Burrow his quarterback, needed 15-20 yards. Tyler Boyd, the slot receiver, needed to hit the deck like a shot to make the call "Down, down, timeout," come true. Their Bengals needed a field goal to break a 3-3 tractor pull with the Broncos that had a playoff berth smack in the middle of it.
And Evan McPherson, their rookie kicker with the face of a leprechaun and the foot of a laser, needed a rest room.
Not necessarily in that order as McPherson lined up a kick no Bengal had ever hit in 54 seasons of field goals.
Here's a walk-through of that 58-yarder that gave the Bengals a 6-3 lead on the way to Sunday's 15-10 victory that put them in first place in the AFC North and McPherson in the team record book:
McPherson, who came into the game needing three bombs to tie the NFL record with ten field goals of least 50 yards, had a beautiful 61-degree day in the rarified air of the Rockies to work it. As punter Kevin Huber held and Clark Harris snapped in pregame, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons liked what he saw from McPherson as he made mental notes what to tell the offensive coaches. First he had to talk to McPherson after he saw kicks from 60 yards and beyond going both ways, with and against the wind.
"That's a conversation we have before every game. To know where we're comfortable from," McPherson says. "After a couple from 60 plus, I knew 58 was definitely in the range."
So did Simmons, the NFL's longest-tenured special teams coach with 19 seasons in Cincinnati who looks to have a once-in-a-lifetime kicker. He divided up his distances. Ones that could be made during the course of the game and those for the end of the half or game so a long miss wouldn't leave them vulnerable to Denver's own powerful leg of Denver's Brandon McManus.
In McPherson, Simmons had a guy with seven 50-yarders in his first 13 games, an NFL record, and already just one shy of the Cincinnati career record, according to Elias. But Simmons also knew last year McManus had joined Baltimore's future Hall-of-Famer Justin Tucker and Blair Walsh in the NFL record book with ten 50-yarders in one season.
"Even during the regular course of the game I had confidence in Evan hitting something like that," Simmons says. "Going into the wind, I was thinking getting it to the 37, 38, 39, something like that, and even a little more than that going the other way."
McPherson was thinking even longer and let Simmons know. Even though he'd never hit a 58-yarder and one he tried last year at Florida was short.
"Those opportunities are exciting," McPherson says. "You know it's going to be the last play. If we get to their 45, I would have been comfortable trying a 63. Darrin would have said, "Just take a shot."
As usual, Simmons meets with Taylor about four minutes before every kickoff and with the offensive coaches listening on the headsets, he gives them yard-lines to reach.
On Sunday it was into the wind, about the 37 or 38 or so. About the 40 or 42 the other way.
Then what Simmons worried about happening with McPherson happened to McManus. With nine seconds left in the half, McManus drifted a 51-yarder right with the wind, the direction McPherson had been going when he easily hit a 53-yarder in the first quarter to give the Bengals a 3-0 lead. That also gave McPherson eight 50-yarders, tying the number of Mike Nugent and Doug Pelfrey that took them each seven seasons to reach with the Bengals.
Suddenly, McPherson had a chance for nine. The Bengals now had the ball at their own 41 with one very big timeout left. McPherson, who thought he'd be in the locker room in plenty of time to use the rest room, now found himself back at the kicking net for a few more practice swings.
"I figured he'd make it, they'd kick it out of the end zone and we'd take a knee and go in," McPherson says.
As Taylor saw the kick go wide, he was saying, 'Go for it," into the headsets.
"You can't just down it with (McPherson) and with our quarterback and receivers," Taylor says after a miserable half the Bengals had the grand total of 72 yards. "The minimum is six seconds and we had nine."
As Taylor sent Burrow to the huddle, they were thinking 15-20 yards and he called a play they had used last month against Pittsburgh at the end of the half. It had been a pass to Boyd coming out of the slot hooking to the left boundary, where he made a great diving catch that went for 14 yards that could have been more. But it had been negated by offensive pass interference on wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase blocking on the outside of Boyd.
But that looked good now if the Broncos took away the middle. Boyd could get out of bounds to stop the clock even with a timeout in the pocket. If they couldn't get out of bounds, the call was "Down, Down, Timeout."
"They called time out, we changed the play, they changed what they were playing," Taylor says as the Broncos took away the boundaries. "Fortunately we had a built-in route for TB and TB and Burrow were on the same page."
Denver switched to "5 outside" taking away the sidelines, so Burrow knew that Boyd would now be cutting across the middle inside cornerback Bryce Callahan and they'd have to use the timeout. Burrow eyes must have bulged when the player in the middle of the field, safety Kareem Jackson, backed up.
"He probably knew as soon as he saw where the safety was where he was going with the ball," Taylor says. "If we didn't have a timeout, we would have to throw to the boundary."
Burrow coolly drilled a strike to Boyd in front of Jackson and Simmons knew the ball was in good hands. In Boyd's first NFL game, the 2016 opener against the Jets at Met Life Stadium with 18 seconds left in the half, he made a sliding 14-yard catch down the middle to the Jets 3. Boyd quickly got up because the call was "May Day," meaning they were running the field goal team on the field because they had no timeouts. Thanks to Boyd's quick thinking, Nugent kicked a 21-yarder with a second left in the half of a game the Bengals would win, 23-22.
"Great situational awareness," Burrow said.
It was a lot easier than New York because "May Day," is a lot harder to pull off than "Down, Down, Timeout." One is a fire drill (like Nugent's tying field goal that sent the 2015 Seattle win into overtime) and this one was a training camp walkthrough, thanks to the timeout. When Boyd dropped quickly to the ground instead of trying to get an extra yard, there were still four seconds left when Taylor teed it up.
View some of the best in game images as the Bengals faced the Broncos in Week 15 of the 2021 NFL season.
Maybe Simmons would have liked it better two or three yards closer. But there it was on the Broncos 40, the lead 58 yards away.
"There was no question," says Taylor, who briefly locked eyes with Simmons, whose eyes were saying the same thing.
"The great thing about Evan is that he always reacts the same way no matter what situation you put him in," Simmons says. "He was ready and, the thing is, he was looking forward to it."
McPherson said after the game he didn't hit it the way he wanted, but he knew it was good enough
"The main thing was getting it lined up," McPherson says. "Once I did that, I knew if I got a good hit on it, it would go in. It was a pretty normal kick. There was nothing out of the ordinary."
Nah. Nothing special. He thinks Huber or Harris said what they always do. "Good job, bud," or maybe, "Good job, kid." That's another reason Simmons loves the guy. No big deal. Team record. Nah. No big deal.
Of course he didn't know it was the record. Not until just before Taylor flipped him a game ball in the locker room did it dawn on him.
"I flashed back to the preseason when I had the 57-yarder," McPherson says. "I remember someone telling me the record was 57."
Now he may know he already has the most 50-yarders of any Bengals kicker. He may not know with two 50-yarders against Tucker's Ravens Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, he'll pass Tucker in the record books with 11 50s in a season.
But all he knew as they came off the field at a Mile High half is they had the lead and the momentum and he was headed to the rest room.
"Oh yeah," McPherson says, "I'm sure you could ask some people out in the hallway. They're like, 'Good job, good job.' I was like, 'I just have to go to the bathroom.'"
In the end, everybody got what they needed.