TAMPA, Fla. _ After scoring 34 straight points over the Buccaneers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium for one of their biggest road comebacks in history, Bengals slot receiver Tyler Boyd said there was no panic down 17-0 to the greatest quarterback who ever lived.
"You saw our Kansas City game last year," said Boyd after his third-down touchdown catch late in the third quarter gave the Bengals the lead for good. "We know what time it is."
It is time that the Bengals are gunning for the AFC's top seed and not just the AFC North, which they lead by a game with three to play.
"This one doesn't matter now," Boyd said. "We have to win them all."
Unlike that win in Kansas City when they swept to the AFC title crawling back from an 18-point deficit, on Sunday the Bengals used their defense to rattle Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady's offense for four straight turnovers. Never had a Brady team blown a 17-point lead at home. Never in 90 games. But he had never faced a wounded and proud defense without its top two sackers, No. 1 cornerback and top two slot cornerbacks.
"Every time I think our defense plays its best game," Boyd said, "they play another the next week."
D-MAGIC: Without his top rushers, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo had to not only go into his back pocket in the second half, but into his bag of tricks and a very deep bench. After a first half Brady was virtually untouched and sifted them for nearly 200 yards and a 127 passer rating, Anarumo went Xing and Oing.
Linebacker Logan Wilson's blitz led to nose tackle D.J. Reader's forced fumble and edge Joseph Ossai's fumble recovery. Ossai's twist with defensive tackle resulted in Ossai drilling Brady as he threw, resulting in linebacker Germaine Pratt's interception. Hill moved outside to end for about half a dozen snaps for the first time since he came over from the Giants last year.
"Got to get that old man tap dancing, man," said cornerback Eli Apple. "Have to get him out of that pocket. Had to get him uncomfortable."
Told Brady lit it up in the first half, Apple said, "He was fairly OK, but not good enough to win."
Yes, the defense did take umbrage at Brady's remarks earlier in the week when he said the Bengals were "a fairly tough defense." Hill asked, "You mean the fairly tough defense stopped them?" when he was told about Brady's first blown 17-point lead.
"Nobody wants to acknowledge what we 're doing on defense in this six-game stretch," Apple said. "We know what the difference has been. We just have to keep it going."
By the way, Wilson had 15 tackles a week after having 17.
SEAMLESS SECOND HALF JOE: Apple means outside Paycor Stadium because the offense knows. After taking down the greatest who ever lived, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow offered no Ali-like pronouncements. Just that the defense was the greatest Sunday.
Asked about the turning point, Burrow said, "It was just the defense and special teams putting us in great positions to go and score."
Burrow threw for a career-low 86 yards in the first half before ending up with 200 yards for another triple digit passer rating (104.6 extending his unbeaten skein in 100-plus passing). But he came out blazing with four touchdown passes helped by fantasy field position. It's believed to be the first time he hit The Big Three of Boyd, Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase for TDs all in the same game.
First, there was Tampa's botched fake punt at the Bucs 16 (fumbled by old friend Giovani Bernard) and then, in no particular order, interceptions by Pratt (at the Bucs 47) and cornerback Tre Flowers (at the Bucs 31) and a forced fumble (at the Bucs 13) and fumble recovery by nose tackle DJ Reader (at the Bucs 39).
"That was the turning point in the gam right there," Burrow said. "Defense and special teams stepping up and giving us the ball with four straight possessions inside the 50."
"Never seen that. Very unique. I'll take touchdowns opportunities."
Boyd, who played a week after dislocating his finger, saw similar toughness in Burrow.
"When we don't start fast, it's not going our way, that's when Joe is at his best," Boyd said. "That's when he dials in and brings that inner dog in him."
Burrow gave Boyd a salute back. Remember, this time last week Boyd was coming out of surgery.
"He was gritty all day. That shows you his toughness," Burrow said. "His leadership for this team, this organization. He played really well for us in some big spots."
But Burrow was as good ever with his second four touchdown passing game of the season and fourth of his career.
HOME SWEET HOME: What was cooler? Head coach Zac Taylor making tight end Mitchell Wilcox a captain in his return to the stadium where he played his college ball for South Florida in basically his hometown. Or Wilcox scoring his first NFL touchdown in front of about 60 family and friends? Or the game ball Taylor flipped him when it was over?
How about something even cooler?
How about the third-and-ten on the Bucs 29 he converted with the Bengals leading, 20-17, early in the fourth quarter? With Burrow scrambling up in the pocket, he saw Wilcox going across the middle of a zone behind the linebackers for 19 yards.
"It was the second window over the middle. Kind of extended it with him you always have to stay alive .and be ready for a scramble, Just found a scramble."
But it was huge. It kept the drive going so wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase could score an eight-yard touchdown that made it a 10-point game, 27-17. A good 10 minutes later with 2:21 left in the game at the end of a 6:57 drive Burrow just had to flip the touchdown, a 12-yarder to Wilcox. Burrow rolled out of a play-action fake, saw Wilcox, after faking a block on the right perimeter with a lot of room, tossed it and raised both arms right away.
"A late leak rollout. I thought I could get there," Wilcox said. "They bit on the run fake and they all backed out. ... I kind of blacked out."
When he got into the end zone, he looked into the stands and slipped slightly on the back pylon. Then he pumped the ball into the ground for a spike.
"I always said when I got my first touchdown I was going to spike it as hard as I could," said Wilcox, who had three catches for 34 yards after coming in with eight catches for 70 yards for the season.
A hard spike to symbolize the tough journey of an undrafted free agent?
"The journey continues," Wilcox said.
Burrow enjoyed it as much as anyone.
"We knew that call was going to come up in a situation like that and so we had practiced it," Burrow said. " We were kind of making fun of him, talking about what he was going to do when he scored. We had talked about it all week, how that was going to come up in a big-time spot and it was an exciting moment."