BALTIMORE - At the time, the last day of the 2017 Draft, Houston safety Brandon Wilson became just the fourth player ever to be selected by the Bengals after they traded up to get him.
They merely moved from the seventh round to the sixth but on Sunday during the Bengals' 23-17 loss to the Ravens, Wilson showed why Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons coveted his speed and play-making ability when he did everything possible to turn the tide.
Before Sunday, Wilson was already settled in as a key teamer, emerging last year as the kicking game's second leading tackler. That's where he is now, but he's expanding his horizons.
Wilson started Sunday with the Bengals' first kick return for a touchdown in 10 years and ended it by nearly pulling down the NFL's first successful on-side kick of the season with the Bengals needing the ball back with 1:28 left. In between, pressed into service for his first NFL start at safety with an injury to captain Shawn Williams, Wilson forced the Bengals' only turnover that they cashed for a field goal at the end of the first half. It was one of his 56 plays Sunday, two more scrimmage snaps than he took all last year.
So he accounted for 10 points and was in the middle of the last play, when kicker Randy Bullock pounded the ball into the turf and got a bounce big enough that Wilson was able to leap in front of the Ravens front line to catch it.
"I'm just trying to jump up and catch it," Wilson said. "We were close. Probably a yard off."
It was an illegal touch instead of a recovery. But because of the rule change last year, which prevents the kicking team from a running start or loading one side, that may be the closest anyone ever comes to converting an onside kick. Bullock got off a great kick. Wilson got a great jump.
"Onsides are so different now that you can't have a five-yard approach," said fellow safety special teams captain Clayton Fejedelem. "The numbers are down. The percentages for a recovery are down. It's a tough play. It was well executed. We just needed one more yard."
Hasn't that become the mantra of an 0-6 season? Just one more yard. One more play. One more something. On Sunday, Wilson did exactly what he did in the Saturday practice. Same kick. Same jump. Same catch.
Just one more yard.
That was after he ran for 92 yards to open the game, stunning the Ravens' top-ranked kick cover team anchored by Hall-of-Fame kicker Justin Tucker's clever placements. Throw in last week's 52-yarder and Wilson is gunning for the AFC crown.
"Brandon is a heck of a returner. He's fast, he's strong. He's explosive," Fejedelem said. "Darrin drew up the script.
"We had a great plan. You guys saw it today. (Tucker) had his 1,000th point. He's the best kicker in the league. Hands down. He just puts that thing on the goal line, one yard in, one yard out. They've been hammering people in there. We just knew we'd have great opportunities."
Defensive lineman Andrew Brown had a block and so did linebacker Jordan Evans as Wilson caught the ball. He shot between them and then saw tight ends Cethan Carter and Drew Sample double-teaming a Raven into submission. Wilson cut behind them to his left and was gone.
"I read my keys and went to score. There were great blocks by the guys up front," said Wilson, who confirmed he wasn't touched. "It was blocked up so good."
Fejedelem started counting bodies.
"There were three guys on the ground where I was," Fejedelem said. "I'm looking up and he's 20 yards by me."
The press box gave Wilson the forced fumble even though he wasn't sure what happened after Baltimore tight end Mark Andrews' 14-yard catch with 1:25 left in the half.
"He tried to jump over me and I just tried to tackle him and the next thing I knew the ball was out," Wilson said.
Exactly. Linebacker Nick Vigil caught it and took it seven yards to the Ravens 39. Moments later the Bengals needed four yards for a touchdown and didn't get them. Four yards. One yard. It's been that kind of season.
"Unfortunately at this point," Fejedelem said. "And we're going to keep working and get better."
There's not much more Wilson could have done.
"I don't think anyone expected that from him except the guys in the safety room, honestly," said safety Jessie Bates III. "We know what Brandon is capable of. Not just at the safety position but returning the ball. He just has to continue to believe in himself and he could be an awesome player."
His team is trying to do the same thing.