Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor didn’t give up on the run and running back Joe Mixon flat didn’t give up during Sunday’s resourceful 27-17 victory over Miami that featured Mixon’s gutty 115 total yards and his first pro receiving touchdown.
That’s about all that went right Sunday for an offense that had racked up the fourth most points in the NFL coming into this one at Paul Brown Stadium. The NFL’s best red zone offense scored only once on four trips and got no points on two of them. They won their first game in four years converting just two third downs with as many as 11 tries. Quarterback Andy Dalton was harassed all day while getting sacked twice and hit two others while the Dolphins pulled off six tackles for loss.
And yet, they won because in a 17-17 game with 7:30 left, Lazor kept calling Mixon’s number even though at that point he had just 40 yards on 16 carries. But on second-and-ten from the Bengals 36, Mixon went up the middle for 11 yards. Then on the next snap he went for 31 yards out of a triple tight end set when tight end Mason Schreck folded end Charles Harris inside and Mixon beat cornerback Torry McTyer to the right edge. Then on second-and-10 from the 10, Mixon bulled for eight and nearly got in working behind left guard Clint Boling to set up what amounted to be the winning points on a 21-yard field goal by Randy Bullock with 3:30 left on his way to 93 yards rushing.
You’ve got to love Joltin' Joe. Despite being 22 days off arthroscopic knee surgery and playing on The Paul’s carpet that must have reached anywhere between 90 to 100 degrees, he kept imploring the crowd and his mates with his elastic enthusiasm.
“We had to grind it out,” Mixon said.
That had been the game plan going in. Pound the ball at Miami’s wide-end alignment and reduced tackle corps. But Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke, a Bengals linebackers coach in 2014 and 2015, must have read their minds even though it’s a brand new offensive scheme.
“They filled the box and had nickel blitzes,” Mixon said. “Eight, nine in the box. We had to grind it out with one, three, two, one. There was a lot of adjustments. One play at a time. The coaches kept saying, keep with it, keep with it, keep trusting it, and we did.”
And now there’s no question Dalton now trusts Mixon. Go back before all madness ensued. The first play of the fourth quarter. Dalton is about to get hammered by Charles Harris and he’s got his hands around Dalton’s waist. Dalton muscles it to Mixon at the goal line working on linebacker Kiko Alonso and when it acts more like a shot put than a spiral, Mixon shows great awareness to come back to it for the 18-yard touchdown that cut it to 17-10.
“The rules for the scramble drill,” Mixon said. “The guy (Alonso) was trailing me in the back and (Dalton) threw it and I came back.”
Dalton approved of how Mixon alertly adjusted like a vet wide receiver.
“That’s what Joe can do. Our backs are great because they’re not just runners, they can catch the ball,” Dalton said. “Joe’s really talented with that, and the thing that’s nice about Joe is he’s a bigger guy. When you get a guy like that with hands, it’s definitely a threat out there.
“I thought I had enough to get it there, and I felt like if I could just get it out there, he could come down with it. As soon as I let go, I got hit, and I wanted to make sure it got there. Fortunately, it did.”
You’ve got to love how Mixon wears his emotions on his sleeve. It’s almost as if he’s connected to the crowd.
“Just the reaction. It was crazy. It felt like I was in a dream,” Mixon said. “When I made that catch and the way the crowd and our players reacted to that, it was definitely huge for momentum and after that the defense really turned it on.”