Tate Starts And Finishes In The Middle Of It All

No. 19 was in the middle of it all Sunday.
No. 19 was in the middle of it all Sunday.

It's believed that no Bengals wide receiver in this century did what Auden Tate did in Buffalo on Sunday when he was the last Bengal to touch the ball in a frustrating last-minute 21-17 loss.

But in his first NFL start, Tate, the second-year man out of Florida State, had 88 yards on six catches. Sure, 32 came on the last desperate, we'll-give-it-to-you Rumpke play of the first half. But there was also the 24-yarder that got the Bengals off the dime with 1:57 left in the first half and two YAC catches for 22 yards in quarterback Andy Dalton's scrambling last drive that ended when he threw behind the leaping Tate on a ball tipped for an interception with 12 seconds left.

"He ran a good route and the ball was behind him a little bit and for him he tried to make a play," Dalton said. "I've got to throw a better ball there, we get the first down and get a shot at trying to score a touchdown there."

Not A.J. Green (41 yards). Not Tyler Boyd (66). Not T.J. Houshmandzadeh (63). Not Chris Henry (34). Not Marvin Jones (20), not Chad Johnson (0) not Mohamed Sanu (0) got 88 yards in their first starts. No, not even Jordan Shipley's 82 yards on 2010 Opening Day in New England beat Tate. You have to go all the way back to the first game of the 2000s and Peter Warrick, Tate's Seminoles soulmate, to find anyone else in the 80s. Warrick, the fourth pick in the 2000 draft, had 80 yards in that first Paul Brown Stadium game.

Tate, the fourth to last player taken in the draft 18 years later, has been a fan favorite ever since they glimpsed him in training camp and his 6-5, 228-pound frame that gobbled anything its way. Now the coaches and his quarterback are also in his camp after Sunday's moves.

First, head coach Zac Taylor opted to not only start him, but have him trade places with the other starting outside receiver, John Ross. Then at the end of that deathly first half when the Bengals had no first downs and just two minutes left, Dalton eschewed an open receiver underneath and gunned the 24-yarder to Tate over the middle.

"It's just great to have that trust (from) Andy and the coaches, that they trust me to make that play. It's a great feeling," said Tate Monday of the last play, recovering from his career-high 54 snaps after playing all of 77 as a rookie.

The Bengals didn't do anything with that 24-yarder, but like Dalton said, it felt like they were down 30 at the half, and that was a play that showed they still had a pulse.

"You can get things going like that, just let the dominoes fall," Tate said. "Once one play happens, another one happens, another one happens, so it was just good to get the first one, something for us to build on going into the second half."

Tate's promotion meant that one of the hot stories of training camp, undrafted rookie Damion Willis, went on the backburner. Willis didn't take a snap two weeks after he was the Opening Day starter. It also shows you the interchangeability of Taylor's offense.

Tate, who played only the X receiver last year, has played both X and Z in this one, like pretty much everyone else, and got the start at Z Sunday when Taylor flipped Ross back to X. In the old days, the Z was considered the flanker, a spot that could be moved around more freely than the static X.

But say "flanker," to Taylor and Tate and they look at you like you've got three eyes instead of three receivers. It's not a today term. Both spots pretty much do the same thing and Tate says, "You can run pretty much the same routes as the X and Z compared to last year." It does show Taylor's confidence in Tate's ability to move around. It will be recalled in the middle of Damionmania (and it was well deserved) that Tate hurt his knee and missed the last pre-season game as well as the opener before debuting in 2019 last week with 25 snaps and one catch for six yards.

 "Auden had a really good training camp, and then he got hurt," Taylor said. "Where Auden has been consistent is he's got aggressive hands and he's tough. Those are two traits that you love and can find a role for. He's physical in the run game. He looks like a tight end playing receiver, and he's a guy there's a role for in this offense. When his number has been called, he's produced for us. He has a great catch radius, and he catches the ones you throw to him. I felt like he deserved an opportunity."

The knock on Tate has been his speed and his ability to separate from coverage on his routes, but he seems to be using his strength to get separation after the catch. Nearly half his yards (45) have come after the catch, according to profootballfocus.com. On Sunday in the game's last drive, the Bills were giving the Bengals the underneath pass and Tate took two of them to run for first downs. He also used his strength to draw a holding call on that drive for a huge automatic first down.

"You turn that five-yard catch into 12 and they start to add up," Tate said. "Split the defenders for five, six yards and they add up."

Taylor didn't blink last week in what he felt was basically their first first down snap of the season in the red zone from the 49ers 11. The play was for Tate to catch a ball on the edge and he muscled it to the 5.

"He's hard to take down, and he's good," Taylor said. "He had some really good shallow (routes) that he caught, and he had some tight turns but was able to get upfield, and he got us the maximum yardage we were going to get on some of those. That was really good to see. We tried to put him in that position last week with the on-on-one (play) on the perimeter. The whole thought process was get him one-on-one with the cornerback. They rallied and made a good play, but he got six yards. Those are just some of the things he brings to the table."

Tate ended up being in two of the biggest plays of his first start. Isn't that always the way? The first one has been discussed Ad nauseam and his holding call that negated Darius Phillips' 92-yard kick return touchdown has made enough of his coaches sick that he's not going to get marked down. And there was, of course, the last play of the game. By time he got off the flight home from Buffalo, he figures he looked at each play 10 to 15 times.

"I was looking at what I could do differently," Tate said. "But it is what it is. You have to move on to the next one."

And a true receiver is always going to look at Dalton's throw and think he should have had it.

"It was close. I got my hand on it, so if I can get my hand on it, I feel like I should catch it," Tate said. "So it was close."

Which pretty much sums up Tate's first NFL start.

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