Here are five takeaways from the win:
1. Day and night for offense
The Bengals’ offense rolled in the first half, as Joe Mixon set the tone with two runs for 24 yards on the first plays from scrimmage, followed by a 22-yard catch by Tyler Boyd.
They didn’t score until their third possession (Mixon was stopped on a fourth down from the Bucs 20-yard line the opening drive), but rookie tight end Jordan Franks and Tyler Boyd each had catches of 32 and 28 yards to set up the first touchdown, a 1-yard run by Mixon, and Cincinnati scored on its next two drives.
“Coach dialed up the runs, tried to get physical in the first couple plays of the game and tried to get the tempo moving,” Mixon said. “Everybody was staying true to what we do, and we were just doing everything we could to be successful.”
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Mixon and Boyd had the offense clicking, but after the Bengals totaled 307 yards in the first half, they managed just 95 more the rest of the game. Mixon had 114 of his 123 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, and Boyd had 112 yards and one touchdown on six catches in the first half with three more catches for 26 yards in the second half.
“They were sending the blitz, eight or nine in the box, so every time we dialed up the run, they were there,” Mixon said of the Bucs in the second half. “That’s part of the game is making adjustments.”
2. Bates comes through
Rookie safety Jessie Bates bailed out the offense out in the second half when he picked off Winston and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown to extend the Bengals’ lead to 34-16 with 2:10 left in the third quarter.
The Bengals went three and out on their first four possessions in the second half, and it was only those turnovers preventing the Bucs from ever taking a lead.
“Throughout the week, we knew he’d give us chances,” Bates said of Winston. “After the first two picks, I think he got a little nervous and lost some control.”
Jordan Evans, Preston Brown and Shawn Williams also had picks.
3. Defense flops
Cincinnati forced four turnovers and had five sacks but still gave up 576 yards of offense, allowing the Bucs a chance to get back in the game the second half.
Fitzpatrick came in after Bates’ interception and he completed 11 of 15 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns, including a 72-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans to make it an eight-point game early in the fourth quarter.
“We were making plays early on and we stopped making plays,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “That’s the biggest difference. I don’t think he did anything special or that much different. We have to figure that out, and we get as big of a cushion as we did, we can’t let up. We just have to finish the game.”
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who left the game with an Achilles’ heel injury but returned, said the secondary hadn’t watched much film on Fitzpatrick’s tendencies but knew he had a good arm.
This was the second straight game the Bengals allowed more than 500 yards of offense and the most yards allowed in back-to-back games since 2006 when they gave up 1,026 yards combined to San Diego and New Orleans. Including the loss to the Chiefs last week, Cincinnati has given up 1,127 yards the past two games.
4. Bullock comes through
In six of eight games, the Bengals have scored points on the last meaningful drives of games, so Cincinnati had confidence it could prevent overtime with a minute left to make something happen on offense.
The Bengals got to Tampa Bay’s 25-yard line with the help of two Green catches for 34 yards, and Bullock came up with the game-winning field goal as time expired, despite heavy gusts of wind.
“I wanted the opportunity,” Bullock said. “I missed a (PAT) kick earlier in the game. Not going to overtime was huge for us.”
5. A win is a win
As ugly as it ended up being in the second half, the Bengals just needed a win, especially given how snake-bitten they have been.
They lost Carl Lawson to what reportedly was an ACL tear Sunday and all seven inactive players were out with injuries. The bye comes at a good time as a chance to heal up and correct mistakes.
“We have to go to work,” Kirkpatrick said. “We have to get back to enjoying ourselves, get guys healthy. Hate what happened to Carl Lawson. … We have to be truthful about the situation. We gave up 500 yards. It’s a win, but it ain’t a great win. We get a little wiggle room and we get the bye this week, but like I told those guys, ‘Don’t just go home and chill out. The Saints play tonight. Really take the time to study, watch what’s going on, use this time as film.’ Hopefully the guys can lock in and we come back and finish what we started.”
Sunday, Nov. 11
Saints at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7