The Bengals staged a last play 24-21 comeback victory Thursday night in prime time that was worthy of the Ring of Honor and 1981 Super Bowl team that were celebrated at packed Paul Brown Stadium.
Like one of the '81 team's most famous victories (and their first one) they rallied from getting shut out in the second half. Like quarterback Ken Anderson, one of the Ring's honorees and one of the most NFL's most accurate passers of all-time, Joe Burrow completed a career-high 78.1 percent of his passes. Like Jim Breech, the Bengals all-time leading scorer who kicked for both Super Bowl teams and authored nine walk off wins in overtime, rookie Evan McPherson was money for the second time in 18 days on the final snap of the game.
"The crowd was electric, and if we can get that for every home game, it would be such an advantage for us," said head coach Zac Taylor, whose 3-1 team is in first place in the AFC North. "Our players thrive off of that. It makes it difficult for the opposing team's quarterback, so we need that effort every game. That's the standard for our team. That's the standard for our fans."
The crowd of 63,198, the largest in five years, saw a Taylor team win for the second time when they trailed at the half and the biggest PBS comeback since the 2015 overtime win over the Seahawks. They did it by scoring their most second half points since they put up 29 in Miami on Dec. 22, 2019 in the game they lost to win Burrow.
It was Burrow's second game winning drive of his career and this season. He was one of the guys that got up and talked at halftime, as did the other two guys Taylor gave balls in wide receiver Tyler Boyd and tight end C.J. Uzomah.
"The message was that they beat us in all three phases. We had not played great football. They genuinely beat us in all three phases," Taylor said. "I don't know if it was their best shot, but it sure felt like it and we were not playing good football. We had a whole second half to play, so there was no reason to panic and nobody did. Everybody was calm and collected."
ZERO HEROES: The last time the Bengals were this far into the season with just one loss, they were trying to get to 5-1 against the Steelers at PBS in 2018 and had a one-point lead until 10 seconds left. That's when the Bengals tried a zero blitz, that is an all-out blitz, and Antonio Brown scored from 31 yards out to stun them.
It is no longer the most famous zero blitz in PBS history. The Jags ran one with 69 seconds left from their 46 on second-and-13 and tight end C.J. Uzomah burned them for 25 yards to set up the winning field goal. Just like the opener when he caught Burrow's 34-yard pass against Minnesota on fourth-and-1 to set up McPherson's winner on the last play of overtime, Uzomah had never repped this play in practice, either.
How cool is Seamless Joe Burrow? He changed the play when he saw the zero and checked to what they call "a jailbreak screen," and fired to Uzomah even though he was split wide on the perimeter.
"You guys have heard me talking about just having the playbook in the back of my head and seeing looks that I can take advantage of, and that just comes with experience," Burrow said. "They gave me a zero look, and so, all week I knew the defensive coordinator had a Baltimore background, they showed some zero on film. I knew I'd have to be ready for it in a big spot and I had C.J. out there. That's not exactly the personnel that we usually throw those jailbreak screens to but he really took advantage of the opportunity and I had those plays in the back of my head, expecting zero and I just got to it and didn't even think about it."
Uzomah, who had already scored two touchdowns on a career-high 95-yard night, said he and Boyd shot each other looks when Burrow called the play because they had never run it with Uzomah getting it.
"Just formationally, it just ended up that way. That's just it. Sometimes I'm out there, sometimes I am at the No. 2 or No. 3 or backside in general," said Uzomah, running through why they knew Burrow would call it. "The way the defense is structured; the front; the safety rolling down; backers in the box. When they show it they're bringing it, this team. When they show zero they're bringing it. They're not really bluffing. Joe knew that and just called it. He could have called something else, too, but he ended up calling that, I caught it and I looked at him and he gave me a wink after. I was like, 'This guy here is reckless.' "
Taylor was suitably impressed the way Burrow responded, showing why he loves that empty back-field set, a dangerous formation because he has no back to block the blitz. So he needed a play to unload the ball quickly.
"That was a check from Joe. We put those guys everywhere in empty, they can line up anywhere and that just happened to be where he was on that play and they zero-blitzed us," Taylor said. "I don't know how many empty plays we ran, but it was a lot. I don't know if the ball ever hit the ground. They had to try something different. They zeroed us and Joe was ready for it."
URBAN CRISIS: Jags head coach Urban Meyer, the former University of Cincinnati defensive back and long-lost Bengals fan, helped his boyhood team in the last minute of the first half. He went for it on fourth-and-one from the goal line, looking to put the Bengals to sleep at 21-0 with another option read from quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Why not? Lawrence had already scored one touchdown keeping it for seven yards and had 26 yards on four carries at that point.
But middle linebacker Logan Wilson did it again. Four days after getting two picks and 14 tackles in Pittsburgh, he had 10 more tackles, a sack and this huge hit on Lawrence that kept them out of the end zone, kept the score at 14-0 and basically ignited the win.
"It's a big hitting play that honestly I kind of forgot about, too," Burrow said. "There's a lot of hidden plays like that throughout the game that help you win a game like this and obviously that's a big one."
They were ready for Lawrence.
"We were playing for it," Wilson said. "We knew that that's what they had been showing on the previous two touchdown drives. We were trying to prevent that from happening again. "
They were also ready for him with 5:49 left in a 21-21 game and facing third-and-four from the 50. The Bengals put eight men on the line, then backed off at the snap and rushed just three in what looked to be a successful ploy confusing Lawrence for an instant. It also helped that Trey Hendrickson came roaring off the edge and forced Lawrence to scramble across the field before flinging a deep incompletion.
Burrow never gave him the ball back.
"I was spying him on that play for that reason, because we knew that there was a short yardage to gain," Wilson said. "So if he scrambled and got that first down, it was not what we wanted, and so my job was to spy him there and prevent him from doing that … We try to disguise all sorts of things, especially for a young quarterback, to try to give him some issues if we can."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Running back Joe Mixon, a big part of the comeback with 53 of his 67 yards coming in the second half, left on the last drive with what Taylor termed "a minor," ankle injury: "I would have to confirm, but he was moving around on it coming off the field. I had no idea what the diagnosis or timeline was."
Wilson may be racking up Pro Bowl numbers, but don't tell him that.
"I'm not a big stats guy. I just want to win, truthfully," Wilson said. "At the end of the day, we got the win. We're 3-1 and we've got a little victory Friday tomorrow so that's the most important thing."
That means Taylor gave them day off, which means a three day-weekend. They're back to work Monday to prep for the Packers at PBS on Oct. 10.
Uzomah says he'll give his game ball to trainer Nick Cosgray, the director of rehab whom got him back to play after he missed all but two games last year with a torn Achilles.
"Honestly, I' m super happy Coach gave me the game ball, but I'm going to give it to Nick because of what he was able to do and get me right is huge," Uzomah said. "I wouldn't be here without him."