ANALYSIS: 5 takeaways from Bengals’ season-opening win over Vikings

The Cincinnati Bengals needed some overtime magic to beat the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in their opener, but they are hoping their first September victory since 2018 can be a spark for the rest of the season.

After the Vikings tied the game with a last-second field goal, the Bengals offense watched helplessly on the sideline while Minnesota neared field goal territory again with less than two minutes left in overtime. That’s when the defense stepped up to force a turnover, and Joe Burrow answered the call with the game on the line.

ExploreARCHDEACON: Burrow-Chase connection 'felt like old times'

Burrow went into a fourth-and-centimeters situation at midfield with 39 seconds left in overtime, didn’t like what he saw from the Minnesota defense and checked out of the play he was going to run. He had one other play in his pocket and stunned the Vikings – and the crowd – when he lobbed a pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah for a 32-yard gain. Two plays later, rookie kicker Evan McPherson made a 33-yard field goal for a 27-24 win Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.

1. Burrow got the job done

Burrow, in his first game back from December knee surgery, was slinging the ball well, and the Bengals were staying aggressive in their play calling (including going for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 30 while up 21-7 in the third quarter) until Danielle Hunter sacked him with about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. Burrow seemed to awkwardly land on his left leg, the same one he had knee surgery on, and came up holding his shoulder as he limped off the field.

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The quarterback later indicated he tweaked his ankle and insisted he didn’t hurt his shoulder, but he went straight to the stationary bike and never got checked out by trainers. Taylor said Burrow needed to be on the field, so he pretended not to notice and joked he told the trainers to stay in the tunnel.

When Burrow went back out the next series, the Bengals ran the ball on five straight plays and punted on a fourth-and-three near midfield. Then, in overtime they looked like they were playing for a tie.

Burrow saw a chance to win the game after the defense got the turnover, though. He went into fourth down with two plays and went with the looping deep ball to Uzomah, although he had never thrown that play to him in a game. It paid off and both were celebrated heroes.

Caption
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) makes a catch and takes it in for a touchdown past Minnesota Vikings defensive back Bashaud Breeland (21) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Credit: Jeff Dean

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) makes a catch and takes it in for a touchdown past Minnesota Vikings defensive back Bashaud Breeland (21) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Caption
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) makes a catch and takes it in for a touchdown past Minnesota Vikings defensive back Bashaud Breeland (21) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Credit: Jeff Dean

Credit: Jeff Dean

2. Chase drop concerns fade

The Bengals offense kept stalling out for the first quarter and a half, until Burrow turned to Ja’Marr Chase. Teammates and coaches insisted they weren’t concerned with Chase’s struggles with drops during training camp and preseason, when he dropped four straight passes between two games, and he proved their steadfast belief in him to be warranted Sunday.

Chase caught the first four passes thrown his way, including two straight third-down plays that got the offense going after a slow start. The third pass went for a 50-yard touchdown to give Cincinnati a 14-7 lead with 35 seconds left in the second quarter.

“I had a couple guys come up to me and say, ‘I hope Ja’Marr comes to play today,’” Burrow said. “And I said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s Sunday. It’s game day. He’s going to come here to play.’”

Chase said the noise about his drops was just “trash talk” to him. The team’s No. 5 overall draft pick finished with 101 yards on five catches and seven targets – none of the misses were drops.

“That was huge,” Uzomah said. “We were struggling a little bit. … That go ball that Ja’Marr had — that dime that franchise threw to him — and that kind of gave us a little spark as well. I was happy with how he performed, and came out, and it was his first game, and he’s been getting a lot of slack. He’s a rookie, and he’s a high draft pick, and he’s supposed to do certain things, but he put the nerves aside today for sure.”

3. Defense steps up

While the Bengals offense got off to a slow start, the defense stepped up, especially up front.

The Bengals, whose pass rush needed addressed in the offseason, sacked quarterback Kirk Cousins three times, including twice in the first half with defensive tackles Larry Ogunjobi and B.J. Hunt getting to him. Mike Hilton’s blitzing paid off to help Hunt get his sack. Cincinnati had the fewest sacks in the league last year and almost never got pressure from the interior defensive line.

Taylor said he was pleased with how the defense collapsed the pocket and got pressure on Cousins and noted “that is why you invest in your defense.”

Cincinnati also limited Dalvin Cook to 61 yards, and Germaine Pratt stripped the ball from him and recovered it as the Vikings were nearing field goal territory with 1:48 left in overtime.

“As many weapons as they have it starts with Dalvin Cook and it starts with that run game, so our guys just drove into the ball to send them a message early,” Taylor said. “They’ve got a good offensive line, but at the same time we know it’s really the first time they’re playing against each other. We have a veteran group out there and we felt that we really had to go win that battle. … They had a lot of passing yards, but again, it’s hard to take away the run game from Minnesota and it put us in a position to win.”

4. Rookie kicker is the real deal

Rookie kicker Evan McPherson impressed with his consistency and distance during the preseason, and he backed that up in his first official game, nailing a 53-yarder right through the middle of the uprights early in the fourth quarter and then hitting the game winner in overtime.

Taylor gave the fifth-round draft pick the game ball, though there were several others he could have given it to.

“He’s a rookie -- yeah, he’s done it all training camp, yeah, he’s done it all preseason games, but it’s different when you’re in Week 1 against a really good football team,” Taylor said. “You’ve still got to hit that pressure-packed kick there, and he did it.”

McPherson said it was his first walk-off field goal.

“It was super exciting, and I’m glad I got to do it for this team,” he said. “They worked so hard for this game. All of us want to succeed this season, make the playoffs, and make a run for the Super Bowl, and this is where that started. I’m super happy that I could give the team what we wanted, and that’s a win.”

5. Discipline paid off

While Minnesota had 12 penalties for 116 yards, including five false starts (three on the first drive), the Bengals had just three penalties for 15 yards and they were all on defense. Two were defensive holds and the other was an illegal use of hands call on defensive end Trey Hendrickson.

The offensive line struggled with penalties last year, so a clean game was a strong start for a unit with much to prove. The unit allowed five sacks on Burrow but paved the way for a big game for Joe Mixon, who finished with 128 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.

“That was a bloody game on both sides of the ball,” Taylor said. “They’ve invested in their defensive line, we’ve invested in our offensive line, we invested in our other side of the ball as well, so it’s going to be bloody, you’ve got to stay the course. It doesn’t always look pretty. They’re going to win some, you’re going to win some. At the end of the day, you’ve just got to find a way to win 27-24 and stick with it. They caused a lot of protection — that’s really what (Eric) Kendricks and Harrison Smith do. … I’ve seen some great teams that play that team a lot and they have some free runners coming in. That’s why you can look at it as conservative at some points, but we’re just trying to be smart and protect our quarterback and sticking with the run-game because it was working.”

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