Huge Second Half Powers Bengals Past The Jaguars, 24-21

210930-McPherson-Evan_game-winning_field_goal (AP)
Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson (2) reacts after kicking the game-winning field goal against the Jacksonville Jaguars in an NFL football game, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, in Cincinnati. Cincinnati won 24-21. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The last drive was something else. The best for last. Running back Joe Mixon (16 for 67 yards) went out with an ankle injury and they overcame a false start and holding call on their guards. But tight end C.J. Uzomah, with a 25-yard play against the blitz, set up Evan McPherson's last-play field goal from 35 yards as the 3-1 Bengals charged into first place in the AFC North with a 24-21 victory over the Jags at delirious Paul Brown Stadium.

It was the only way to ring in the Ring of Honor before 63,198, the largest crowd in five years. Joe Burrow had career high passer rating of 132.8 and 348 yards and his second game winning drive. Uzomah also enjoyed a breakout game with a career-high 95 receiving yards to go with his two touchdown catches as Burrow sifted 25 of 32 passes for a scalding 78 percent.

With the game tied at 14 as the game lurched through the third quarter into the fourth, Jags quarterback Trevor Lawrence converted a killing fourth-and-two and third-and-three on the way to take a 21-14 lead on running back James Robinson's four-yard touchdown run with 14:27 left in the game.

Both times Lawrence had time to get rid of it to wide receiver Laviska Shenauklt, Jr., on fourth down working against slot corner Mike Hilton, and on third down working against Darius Phillips, playing for the injured Eli Apple. Trey Hendrickson sacked Lawrence back at the Bengals 20, but strong safety Vonn Bell was called for holding tight end Dan Arnold in the end zone.

Burrow responded with a monstrous drive when he converted three third downs, including Tyler Boyd's magical third-and-seven one-hander up around his ear over the middle. Then on third-and-four from the Jags 31, Burrow danced in the pocket as he directed his receivers through traffic. He rolled away from the rush to the left and hit Uzomah making himself available across the middle running to the left sideline and he turned it up field to score his second touchdown of the game to tie it at 21 with 8:59 left in the game. Boyd finished with the tenth 100-yard game of his career and his biggest outing since the third game last season with nine catches for 118 yards.

Then the defense forced a punt when the Bengals changed up fronts on third down with middle linebacker Logan Wilson spying on Lawrence to avoid a scramble and lined up with eight men, apparently confusing Lawrence just enough for him to throw a deep incompletion and Burrow got the ball back with 5:40 left.

The comeback started in the final minute of the first half when the Jags went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in a bid to put the dagger in at 21-0. But Wilson (again all over the place with a sack and ten tackles) and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi stoned Lawrence to shift a game that about ten minutes later was tied at 14.

After the Ring of Honor ceremony the Bengals enshrined the opening drive of the second half with Burrow's 44-yard loft to Chase beating cornerback Tyson Campbell down the left sideline to set up Burrow's 22-yard touchdown pass to Uzomah. Burrow went hard play-action and rolled out to his right to see linebacker Josh Allen in his face and he muscled it over his head. Uzomah did the rest and when he got inside the five he threw away safety Rayshawn Jenkins for the touchdown.

The defense rode the goal-line stand to a three-and-out and then the Bengals gave the ball to Mixon behind a bevy of heavy packages that, at times, included some double tight ends, triple tight ends and an extra tackle in Isaiah Prince. During an 11-play, 86-yard drive, Mixon took it six times for 37 yards and when he scored a touchdown on a one-yard run he cut behind the left side to tie it at 14, he had 54 yards after having just 14 yards in the first half.

By halftime, James Robinson had 64 yards on 12 carries, more than the Bengals had allowed in games against Dalvin Cook (61), David Montgomery (61) and Najee Harris (40). The Bengals came in giving up 105 yards rushing per game, but the Jags put up 115 in the half. At the point the Jaguars went up 14-0 they had 113 yards rushing to the Bengals' six. Jacksonville's offensive line simply manhandled the Bengals up front, but Cincy turned it around in the second half and held them to 24 yards on the ground. Lawrence hurt them on the read option with 36 yards on eight carries and he hit them for their longest pass of the year against them, a 50-yarder that cornerback Trae Waynes covered well but couldn't find the ball in his first game since 2019. Lawrence couldn't get another big one and finished with just 204 yards on 17 of 24 passing.

Top shots from the Bengals hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 4 of the 2021 NFL season.

And the same thing was going on at the other side of the ball early. The Bengals tried Mixon just five times in the half for 14 yards as the Jags penetrated the interior. The biggest plays of the half came off play-action catches-and-runs with Burrow unable to get anything deep and they didn't go downfield very much.

One series summed up the frustration. Mixon ripped off seven yards on first down, but the line couldn't put two runs together and Mixon got pulled down from the inside for just a yard. And then on third-and-two, wide receiver Mike Thomas, playing for the injured Tee Higgins got no yards on a route over the middle.

After averaging 23 passes in their two wins, the Bengals came out firing with Burrow hitting six of seven passes for 74 yards in the first series as they moved from their 9 to the Jags 12. Mixon's only run in the drive went for two yards.

Then came the play that seemed to deflate the rest of the half. On that play that put them in the red zone, Chase was called for pushing off cornerback Shaquill Griffin on a third-and-10 and his 13-yard catch was wiped out and they were forced to try a 42-yard field goal and on his fifth field-goal try of his career McPherson suffered his first missed when he hooked it left.

But McPherson, who has made the winning kick on the game's final play twice in less than three weeks, and the defense had the final word.

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