When he returns to practice after each game, Tyler Eifert finds himself squirming uncomfortably as he sits through the weekly film session with his Cincinnati Bengals teammates.
You might wonder why.
The Bengals are 8-0 for the first time in franchise history and he is having a highlight-reel season.
With the three touchdown catches in Cincinnati’s 31-10 victory over Cleveland on Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals tight end now has nine TD catches this year.
That leads all tight ends in the NFL – New England’s Rob Gronkowski is second with seven – and it also ties the Bengals’ single-season record for TD catches by a tight end.
Bob Trumpy had nine TDs in the 14-game 1969 season and Rodney Holman equaled that mark in his 16-game campaign in 1989.
And now Eifert has done it in just eight games.
With Thursday’s performance in a nationally-televised game, Eifert ended up will all the attention on him.
And therein lies the problem.
At least when it comes to watching game films.
While most prolific scorers in the NFL have perfected some kind of touchdown celebration – and Chad Johnson, the man who wore the Bengals’ No 85 before him, was a regular three-ring circus after a TD catch – Eifert is an end zone wall flower.
“Yeah, the guys make fun of me for what I do when I score,” he said. “When we’re watching films, it’s like ‘Do something! You just get up and look around with that big, cheesy smile.’
“You almost get more fun made of you when you do something well than when you don’t do something so well.”
And he’s doing things so well he’s become the talk not only of the Bengals locker room, but all across the NFL.
He has as many TD catches this season as all of the other Bengals combined. He has more than twice as many as perennial Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green and three times as many as the similarly-dynamic Marvin Jones.
And yet Eifert is a real sad sack when it comes to a touchdown celebration.
He said it has a lot to do with how he was raised in Fort Wayne, Ind.
“Growing up, I’d always been taught to just hand the ball to the ref,” he said. “For me, my whole career I just focused on not getting too high and not getting too low. Just staying on an even keel and plugging forward.”
That helped him get through his disappointing second season last year when he suffered a season-ending elbow injury in the first quarter of the first game of the year. He caught 39 passes and had two touchdowns as a rookie in 2013.
But now that he’s back healthy and becoming quarterback Andy Dalton’s favorite target, he’s being teased enough by teammates that he’s tried to add some kind of pizazz to the end of his touchdown plays.
“Sometimes when you have so much time between the score and all your buddies running to you, you’ve got to do something otherwise you look stupid,” he said. “And I’m definitely not gonna dance because I need practice at that. … So that’s why I went with the spike.”
He scored the Bengals first touchdown midway through the first quarter when he caught a 9-yard pass over the middle from Dalton and bulled over Browns’ safety Tashaun Gipson. To say it was a mismatch is an understatement.
Gipson is 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds. Eifert is 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds.
After tumbling into the end zone, Eifert got up and for a couple of moments just stood there looking around. Finally, it dawned on him and he reared back with his right arm and then slammed the ball to ground, a spike reminiscent of Gronkowski’s trademark punctuation after his scores.
Eifert scored again in the second quarterback when, seeing the scrambling Dalton in trouble, he found an open crease in the Browns end zone defense and gathered in the 2-yard TD toss.
His final touchdown came in the fourth quarter when he lined up wide like a receiver and gave a quick in-and-then-back-out juke that Browns cornerback Tramon Williams bit on.
That gave Eifert the step he needed and then he was just too fast for Williams to catch. He caught Dalton’s 19-yard pass in the left corner of the end zone.
After his final two scores, Eifert didn’t do any celebratory antics, although he did hand the final TD catch to someone in the crowd.
While they still will likely tease him in the film room, Eifert’s teammates gushed about him in the postgame dressing room.
“He was amazing, just unreal,” said receiver Mohamed Sanu. “Just to see how he does it – how he makes those tough catches is unbelievable.”
A.J. Green agreed: “He’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. And he runs his routes so crisp. It’s a mismatch nightmare every time.”
Marvin Jones beamed at the mention of Eifert: “If they’re going to try to put one person on him, he’s going to have a field day. He’s like a 6-foot-6 wide receiver.
“When we run routes in practice, Tyler is with us receivers. He practices with us. He is one of us. And when he gets out there one-on one with the corners, he knows how to get off, maintain his route and win.”
And with that Jones started to chuckle:
“It’s really cheatin’ to have someone like that run down the field.”
Eifert is too big for most cornerbacks to cover and too fast for most linebackers to defend.
The dilemma is something veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth brought up to former Bengals standout receiver T. J. Houshmandzadeh when he showed up at an offseason training session to work with players.
“I pulled him aside and just told him, ‘Watch 85,’” Whitworth said. “At the end of the week, T.J. came to me and said ‘That boy can play!’
“He saw what we’re seeing. If we can keep him healthy, he’s got the talent and he can’t be rattled. The game isn’t too big for him. You don’t have to be around him very long to realize he’s pretty special.
“He can do it all.”
Well, at least until he gets to the end zone.
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