The Cincinnati Bengals put the ball back in Joe Burrow’s hands with less than six minutes left and the game tied, and just like they knew he could, the second-year quarterback drove the offense down the field for a game-winning field goal.
Burrow completed a second-half comeback with the help of a 25-yard catch by tight end C.J. Uzomah to set the table for rookie kicker Evan McPherson’s 39-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-21, on Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals rallied from a 14-point deficit after being shut out in the first half, buoyed by a goal-line stand in the final minute before halftime to prevent an even wider gap. They improved to 3-1 with the win and now have a long weekend off before beginning preparation for the Oct. 10 game against the Packers. The Jaguars (0-4) remain winless over 19 straight games.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Burrow leads game-winning drive
Burrow made an audible on the play that went to Uzomah at the end of the game, calling a jailbreak screen when he saw the Jaguars giving a zero blitz look. The Bengals have repped that play in practices but it never goes to Uzomah.
Uzomah did a “double take” after the call and thought, “This guy here, he’s wreckless,” after Burrow winked at him.
“He’s Joey Franchise,” Uzomah said, noting he called the play and made it happen.
Burrow knew exactly what he was doing, though.
“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,” he 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.”
Burrow finished with 348 yards passing, two touchdowns and no interceptions with Tyler Boyd coming through on several third-down plays to lead the receivers with 118 yards on nine catches. Burrow’s passing total is the second most by a Bengals quarterback without an interception in primetime, trailing only Ken Anderson’s 447 yards on Nov. 17, 1975 against the Bills. Anderson was inducted into the Ring of Honor on Thursday.
2. Uzomah’s big night
Just like in the opener when the Bengals went to Uzomah on a fourth-and-1 in overtime on a play that he’s never caught, the veteran tight end came through on that big 25-yard catch. Both times set up a game-winning field goal, but Uzomah was mad he didn’t get the touchdown this time.
It would have been his third touchdown of the game, as Uzomah came up big for the Bengals all night. He finished with five catches for 95 yards and two scores.
Uzomah’s first touchdown got the Bengals on the board on the first drive of the second half to cut their deficit to 14-7, as he caught a short pass to the left and ran it in for a 22-yard score. Burrow connected with Uzomah again for a 33-yard touchdown to knot the game for a second time, at 21-21 with 8:59 left, and the Bengals got the ball back for the game-winning drive.
“When his number is called, he just steps up and makes key plays,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “He caught a key one for a touchdown, he caught a scramble drill for a touchdown, he caught a jailbreak screen that I promise you that we’ve never worked in practice to C.J. He just knew what to do, ran it correctly, and got us into field goal range. That’s just the chemistry of our offense right now. We can call anything, and the guys know what to do because their football I.Q. is so high, and they work hard at it and they study on their own. I couldn’t be happier for him to have the type of game he had.”
3. First-half struggles
The Bengals got off to a slow start all around, allowing 115 yards rushing on defense and managing just 107 yards of offense, including 18 yards on the ground, and they found themselves lucky to be down just 14-0 at halftime.
McPherson missed a 43-yard field goal on their only good drive of the first half -- the team managed just four first downs those two quarters --, and the Jaguars scored touchdowns on two of their next three possessions.
Jacksonville had 270 yards of offense in the first half, including 64 yards rushing from James Robinson, who scored the first touchdown on a 6-yard run late in the first quarter. Rookie No. 1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence ran for a 7-yard touchdown on a long drive with 4:50 left in the second quarter to double the lead.
“They were doing some things that were effective against what we were running,” linebacker Logan Wilson said. “Sometimes that’s the nature of this game. We faced some adversity in the first half. That’s the nature of football. Your back’s against the wall and you have to just rebound and move on from it. You can’t keep letting plays defeat you more than once and like I said, we faced adversity. But like I said last week, we believe in each other and came out in the second half and got the win.”
Cincinnati’s offense had a couple splash plays, including a 33-yard pass from Burrow to Tyler Boyd, but after Ja’Marr Chase was penalized for offensive pass interference following a 13-yard catch on third-and-8, the Bengals ended up settling for a field goal try that McPherson missed from 43 yards.
4. Momentum swing
A 50-yard pass from Lawrence to Laviska Shenault set Jacksonville up for a chance to extend the lead to 21 points going into intermission, but the Jaguars were stopped on third down and decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches. Logan Wilson and Larry Ogunjobi stepped up to stuff Lawrence short of the goal line with about a minute left, and that proved to be a game-changer.
“I don’t know if I was surprised they didn’t kick a field goal,” Wilson said. “They’d shown previously that they like to pull the ball and run with (Jaguars quarterback) Trevor (Lawrence). We got our backs put against the wall and just made a stop.”
The Bengals had the ball to start the second half and hit the Jaguars’ defense hard right away on a 44-yard pass to Ja’Marr Chase, who continues to be a deep threat for the offense. Two plays later, Uzomah scored, the defense followed with a three-and-out, and Burrow led the offense back down the field for a 1-yard touchdown run by Joe Mixon to tie the game at 14-14 with 5:10 left in the third quarter.
Lawrence responded the next drive, though, and after a Vonn Bell hold negated Trey Hendrickson’s sack, the Jaguars went back ahead on another Robinson touchdown. But the Bengals went back to work, and Burrow connected with Uzomah again to knot the game once more at 21-21 with 8:59 left before the defense stopped the Jaguars at midfield their last drive.
“There’s no panic in the locker room,” Burrow said. “We knew we didn’t play great in the first half. It is what it is. But we had all the faith in the world that we were going to come out and play well in the second half. We’ve been a second-half team. We’re going to have to keep that finish, and we’re going to have to play better in the first half on offense, but I’m proud of the way we fought back.”
5. Another close win
The Bengals last year had eight games that were decided by eight points or less and they only won two of them. All six of those that did not result in wins (one was a tie) were by five points or less.
Cincinnati is showing signs of being able to pull through in those close games. Two of the Bengals’ three wins were on field goals as time expired, one in overtime. They lost to the Bears 20-17 despite a late comeback attempt after Burrow threw three interceptions in the second half.
“It’s guys that bought in,” Boyd said. “We’ve got all the missing pieces to the puzzle. We’ve got on the offensive side unmatchable players. On defense we have guys that can rush and guys that can cover now. We’ve just got guys that are not selfish, are going to put their body on the line. That’s how you become a championship team.”