- By Laurel Pfahler Contributing Writer
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd is certain the Baltimore Ravens are still thinking about the 49-yard touchdown catch he made on fourth down to beat them in the season finale last year.
That play ended the Ravens’ playoff chances and served as a big confidence booster for Boyd as he went into the offseason to prepare for his third year in the NFL.
The two AFC North rivals meet in the Bengals’ home opener Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium, and though it is too early to make or break a season, the winner does take the division lead.
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“They are probably sick of me,” Boyd said with a smile. “They are going to be sick seeing me line up out there, but I don’t think any of that will change how they play. They won’t game-plan me or cover me because of all the weapons we have, but I think they will take this game very seriously.”
Cincinnati has won seven of the last nine meetings in the series, and it’s a matchup that usually seems to come down to the wire. Since 2010, 12 of the 16 games between them have been one-score decisions by eight or fewer points.
In the finale last year, Baltimore was leading by three with 49 seconds left when Andy Dalton connected with Boyd on fourth-and-12 to put the Bengals ahead for a 31-27 win. The Ravens were headed to the playoffs before that play, but Buffalo went instead.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a conference call with media in Cincinnati on Tuesday that he doesn’t think much about that game, but was more candid with the local media in Baltimore during a press conference Monday.
When asked in that press conference if the way the last meeting ended brings any sense of motivation for the Ravens, Harbaugh said. “How could it not be part of it?”
“I’m sure they felt the same way after the opening loss at their place, so I’m sure they felt the same way going into that game,” Harbaugh said. “It’s just part of it. That’s life. It’s human nature. You always want to redeem yourself as best as you can, certainly, but it’s not going to factor into who wins the game. It’s not going to matter in the outcome. You still have to play better than your opponent on that day, and that’s really what we have to focus on.”
Harbaugh credited the Bengals for making that play and said his defense messed up but has moved on. Boyd has too, but also looks back at the end of last season as a reminder of the player he wants to be.
“It just solidified me, let everybody know that I was still the guy I was my rookie season,” Boyd said. “I had a little bit of flaws going through my second season, I got hurt and had to regroup and regather myself. The last couple games I was coming back up and making plays. I just felt like that gave me a lot of confidence coming into this year.”
Last season as a whole was a tough one for Boyd, who the year prior had been the Bengals’ most productive rookie wide receiver not named A.J. Green since Cris Collinsworth 35 years before him. A second-round draft pick out of the University of Pittsburgh, Boyd had 54 catches in 2016 but made just 22 receptions for 225 yards last year while missing four games in the middle of the season with a knee sprain.
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By the time he returned, the Bengals’ season was already in a downward spiral and it took until the last two games to get back in sync. Boyd had 10 catches for 130 yards over the two games, and Cincinnati offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said that was important for him going into the offseason and coming back this preseason.
“He gained some good from how things ended last year, that last game in particular,” Lazor said. “To me, the big thing is he looks like a very intelligent player out there now. He understands the game, very savvy. I’m just excited about how good he’s looked. A lot of times with these receivers it does take until their third year to really understand the differences in the NFL and come into their own, and he’s playing very confident, very smart right now. I have high expectations, but he does too.”
Boyd had three catches for 26 yards in the opening win at Indianapolis and looked solid throughout training camp. He hopes to be as big a factor Thursday as he was in the 2017 finale.
“I’ve been doing what I’ve been asked to do very consistently,” Boyd said. “I got bigger, stronger, faster, my abilities got better — just my all-around game is excelling so I just want to keep doing the same things to show I’m dependable.”