The Legend of Seamless Joe grows. Call it and he will sift it.
The Bengals stole Sunday's opener right out from under old friend Mike Zimmer's Double A Gap in the broad daylight of deafening Paul Brown Stadium as 56,525 gaped while Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow put the finishing touches on his nine-month comeback from knee reconstruction the only way he knew how. A career-best 128.8 passer rating on 20 of 27 yards for 261 yards and two touchdowns.
Zimmer, the Vikings head coach, watched Burrow do what Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and Eli Manning and Andrew Luck couldn't do against him in this building and turn a stone-cold loss into a saucy feel-good win with one ice-water moment and his first game winning NFL drive.
Bengals ball with 39 seconds left in overtime. Fourth-and-a-chain-link from their own 48. Burrow stares into the Double A Gap, where Zimmer has seemingly sent every player that ever played for him during his six seasons as the Bengals defensive coordinator.
Burrow checks to not only a pass, but a long one that he floats to tight end C.J. Uzomah that turns into the 32-yard play. That set up Evan McPherson's winning field goal in an inexplicable 27-24 victory that was just one more yard than the fourth-and-are-you-kidding me pass in the 70th minute of one of the few 70-minute games in Bengals history. According to Elias, it is the only regular-season game in NFL history with last-play scores in both regulation and overtime.
The legend grows.
"We hit them with a QB sneak earlier in the game, so they put a guy on the center and two guys shading on the guards. It was going to be tough to run the ball up the middle," said Burrow a few minutes later, wearing an Ohio University sweat top. "We had a second play called, that's what we called to and we've run that play multiple times over the last couple years and I don't think we've thrown it to CJ one time. Credit to him, he was ready for it. Now over the last couple years I've hit everybody on that play, it's a good play for us."
It's a play that, of course, Burrow demanded they run one more time in practice last week. It wasn't against defenders, but air. Nobody.
"If Joe doesn't like what he's getting at practice, of course he wants to run it again because he wants things to be perfect," said rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who helped him add to the legend at LSU. "We still had a couple of mess-ups today, so we've got to go back and practice and work on it again."
Uzomah has watched everybody catch this ball but him, from his close friend Giovani Bernard, now in Tampa, to his backup, Drew Sample.
"I was supposed to do something a little intricate with how I was kind of leaking out, and we ran it back," Uzomah said. "It really is like serendipitous, the fact that I caught that, because we had to run it back. And again — three years, (and) I've never gotten the ball — so it's good we did it again."
Burrow, whose gym rat legend includes being quite fussy about his throws, thought he saw something.
"I threw it to CJ in practice because I didn't see Drew in practice," Burrow said. "I overthrew him, threw it into the back of the end zone, he wasn't really ready for the throw so we ran it back and got that same look in practice and I hit it. I'm really glad we got that rep in practice. It ended up winning us a game."
The legend grows.
Ten years and a day after Bengals running back Joe Mixon's 127 yards channeled Cedric Benson's 121 yards in an Opening Day win in Cleveland, Uzomah kind of went through what wide-open A.J. Green went through on his first NFL catch that was also the winning touchdown in that game, but he had to wait for Bruce Gradkowski's moon ball to come down.
Uzomah wasn't that open, but he was behind the defense had to wait a bit.
"Well in that situation, and in all honestly, sometimes you just want the ball to get down. But in that situation it's perfect because of what I'm doing, and because of how I'm running the route, and then having time," Uzomah said. "So Joe threw it perfectly for me to be able to track him and make a little something happen and get down the field. So yeah, that was a beautiful ball. He was dropping dimes today, so that was just another one of them."
The legend grows.
Burrow got his first NFL Opening Day win with his typical breezy grit. Zimmer attacked Burrow the way he attacks everyone and The Double A Gap blitz confounded him and his offensive line enough that the Vikings sacked him five times, which sent PBS' collective heart into the mouth during each one.
After the fourth one in the middle of the fourth quarter, when the Vikes were able to match up their best pass rusher, Danielle Hunter, on the tight end Sample, Burrow says he got his ankle rolled. But he immediately went to the exercise bike.
"Then my adrenaline kicked in. We felt great. Got on the bike, looked at the pictures. We were good to go after that," said Burrow, his coach preferring not to know.
"He's going to be out there. I just try to look away and pretend I didn't see anything," Taylor said. "The next series came up, and he ran out there. I really don't know anything other than that. He played pretty good. I have the trainers go back in the tunnel after that point."
The legend grows.
What the trainers would have seen is Burrow and Chase carting off the field the narrative surrounding Chase's four preseason drops. They hooked up for five catches for 101 yards on seven targets that included a 50-yard go ball touchdown thrown in stride.
"I had a couple guys come up to me and say I hope Ja'Marr comes to play today," Burrow said. "I said, 'Don't worry, it's Sunday, it's game day he's going to come ready to play.'"
The bomb came with 35 seconds left in the half down the right sideline. Burrow kind of sucked in Vikings veteran Bashaud Breeland, a guy he eyed all week.
"It was a two-minute drill, and they were playing soft (coverage) the first couple of plays," Burrow said. "We were kind of dinking-and-dunking our way up the field, so I knew we were kind of going to be a little more aggressive once we crossed the 50-yard line. I knew that Breeland was the more aggressive corner, so I was going to take that matchup. I had a feeling he was going to sit on a short route and that's what he did."
"It felt like practice out there," Chase said.
That's exactly what Burrow was trying to tell him.
"Ja'Marr caught me on the sideline and said he was glad I didn't overthrow him," Burrow said. "And I said, 'Come on, man. How many times have we done this? We've done it over and over again.'"
If Burrow ever sweats, he never lets you see it.
"You guys asked me early in the week how important the first game was and I kind of shrugged it off. But the first game is really important," said Burrow, unable to suppress a smile. "You need momentum early in the season to gain more and more momentum. It just keeps snowballing. Now, we've felt this. We've felt giving up a big lead, coming back, winning the game, making big plays when they count. I think it's going to serve us well going forward."
Burrow not only had the play of the day, he had the line of the day. He replaced Chase on the media podium and after they shook hands and as Chase was leaving, Burrow offered to the crowd.
"I thought he was dropping everything," Burrow said.
The legend of Seamless Joe grows.