CINCINNATI – Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow gutted his way through a sore right calf and the presence of Aaron Donald to lead his team to a much needed victory after starting 0-2.
In front of a national television audience and with some of the biggest names in franchise history on hand to witness the halftime Ring of Honor induction ceremony for Chad Johnson and Boomer Esiason, Burrow overcame a slow start and led three second-half scoring drives as the Bengals rallied for a 19-16 victory before 65,158 at Paycor Stadium.
Burrow was 26 of 49 for 259 yards with an interception. He didn’t look himself at all, missing some throws by uncharacteristically wide margins.
The win moves the Bengals to 1-2, and leaves them just a game out of first place in the AFC North Division after the Ravens dropped their first game of the season Sunday at home against the Colts.
Here are three instant observations from one of the earliest must-wins in franchise history.
Ja’Marr Asks, Ja’Marr Receives
Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase lamented his lack of usage and especially the absence of deep shots last Monday, and the message clearly was received by head coach Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan.
Chase had 12 catches for 141 yards on 15 targets. The 141 yards are the fourth most of his career.
He had 14 of those targets through three quarters, including a 43-yard reception on the team’s second drive of the third quarter, setting up Evan McPherson’s 48-yard field goal off the upright that gave the Bengals a 16-9 lead.
Chase had six catches for 56 yards on seven targets in the first half, then caught passes of 16, 13 and 4 yards on the team’s opening possession of the second half, which ended in Joe Mixon’s 14-yard touchdown run.
The Bengals offense just runs better when it runs through Chase. The Bengals are 11-4 when Chase gets double digit targets.
Just as the Bengals did last year in Week 3 after back-to-back slow starts to games led to them starting 0-2, they won the toss and took the ball instead of deferring.
MORE: QB Power Rankings 2023
But then they followed that aggressive decision with a timid one by not going for it on fourth and 3 from the LA 37-yard line. And it backfired with Evan McPherson missing from 56 yards, giving the Rams a short field to work with, which they converted into a field goal that nearly was a touchdown.
Originally credited with a 24-yard end around for a score, Tutu Atwell was ruled out at the 2-yard line by replay review, and the Bengals defense came up with its first of two goal-to-go stops in the first half.
DJ Reader sacked Matthew Stafford on first and goal, and Stafford threw back-to-back incompletions on second and third down before Brett Maher kicked a 23-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
The Bengals passed on an aggression at the end of the half as well, although that may have been more related to Joe Burrow’s compromised right calf. After Burrow was sacked on second down at the LA 25-yard line with no timeouts remaining, head coach Zac Taylor had the offense let the clock wind down before Burrow spiked the ball with three seconds left, drawing thunderous boos from the crowd.
McPherson hit from 53 to tie the game at 6-6 heading into halftime.
There was another mixed message in the first half when despite having a quarterback hampered by a calf injury, the Bengals only ran the ball seven times compared to 31 pass attempts.
But the offensive line, aside from a couple of big rushes from Aaron Donald, held up well.
The No. 1 priority for the Bengals after their Super Bowl loss to the Rams was to improve the offensive line, especially on the interior. Signing Ted Karras and Alex Cappa and drafting Cordell Volson has led to the improvement the franchise was looking for, and that was on display Monday night when the Bengals needed it most.
With Burrow hampered by a right calf injury, the protection was as good as we’ve seen in a long time.
Taylor went back to his aggressive side in the fourth quarter when facing fourth and 1 at the LA 40. Taylor went for it, and Mixon appeared to be stood up for no gain but got the first down on second effort.
But on the next play, Burrow threw an interception at the LA 20. Then he was bailed out by…..
What started with the defense mitigating disaster by turning two goal-to-go opportunities for the Rams into a pair of field goals ended with Trey Hendrickson and Co. turning in a dominant performance with six sacks, which is tied for the most since Lou Anarumo became defensive coordinator in 2019.
The highlight came after Burrow threw a costly interception with the Bengals holding on to a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter. Trey Hendrickson, taking full advantage of Rams starting left tackle Alaric Jackson being out with a knee injury, sacked Stafford to set up third and 18 at the LA 12, then B.J. Hill busted through for a sack to put the Rams in fourth and 26.
Reader had his first sack since Week 14 of 2021, and safety Dax Hill had a full-speed obliteration of Stafford on second down that set up one of many third and more than 15s for the Rams on the night.
Hendrickson had another sack wiped out on a questionable facemask call against Sam Hubbard, who had dropped into coverage. Yet another sack was wiped out by offsetting penalties midway through the fourth quarter.
Hubbard got his sack on the last play before the two-minute warning, forcing the Rams into second and 17.
That pressure was a big reason the Rams were 0 for 10 on third down before Stafford hit Tutu Atwell for a 1-yard touchdown with 1:03 left in the game.
Then there was linebacker Logan Wilson with his second career two-interception game.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) September 26, 2023
The Bengals didn’t do anything with Wilson’s first pick, but the second one, which came with the Rams driving at the Cincinnati 22, led to a McPherson 48-yard field goal and a 16-9 lead.
And the run defense that came in ranked 31st in the league, allowing 192 yards per game, held the Rams to 69 yards.
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