Bengals finding role players they can count on in big moments

CINCINNATI — Running back Chris Evans said the Cincinnati Bengals go as Joe Burrow goes, but it was role players like Evans that made the difference Sunday in a game where Burrow pushed himself into the league MVP conversation.

The Bengals’ 27-24 win over the AFC-leading Chiefs on Sunday was one where the stars shined but still needed support from individuals who might not always be in positions to make big plays. That will continue to be the case as Cincinnati (8-4) pushes toward another deep playoff run, where depth is often tested.

Evans, who played just two snaps on offense, caught the game-winning touchdown with about nine minutes left after under-the-radar linebacker Germaine Pratt forced and recovered a fumble to keep Kansas City from extending a four-point lead. Then, backup defensive end Joseph Ossai came up with a third-down sack to force a 55-yard field goal attempt that Harrison Butker missed, and the Bengals were able to run down the clock over the final three minutes to seal the win.

“Our guys just made plays,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said after the game. “We just told our guys to cut it loose. There’s no fear of failure in this building. We want to go be aggressive and go make plays. This is the type of game you want to do that. Our guys are so poised, so confident. I think what we’re asking them to do and just their abilities, they are able to play fast and go make plays that we need to win a game like this.”

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Evans was expected to have an increased role on third downs this year but offensive coordinator Brian Callahan has said in recent weeks Samaje Perine’s ability in pass protection has made it difficult to work Evans into the mix more. Perine is making a case for even more opportunities after rushing for 106 yards Sunday in Joe Mixon’s place as the starter.

When Evans entered the game in a first-and-goal from the 8-yard line with nine minutes left, he wasn’t even thinking the ball would come to him. Burrow found him wide open around the 4-yard line, and Evans cut toward the pylon, untouched, for the go-ahead touchdown that turned into the game winner.

Evans said the Bengals worked on the play all week, but he never got the ball in practice.

“But I’m running and I’m like, ‘Oh, he might actually throw it to me,’” Evans said. “So when he threw it to me, I turned and I didn’t even know what was behind me, so I just kind of ran in (thinking if) somebody hit me I was going to fall in.”

Evans didn’t know how meaningful that touchdown would be, but said it felt good to contribute in an important moment in such a big game. He’s been just waiting for his opportunities and was glad to take advantage.

That was the case for Ossai, a second-year player whose short career so far has been impacted by injuries, including two that caused him to miss his entire rookie season before it started. His sack Sunday on Mahomes went for a four-yard loss and prevented the Chiefs from regaining a lead.

“It means a lot because all I’ve ever wanted to do is help the team or contribute to the team and do something to say I’m helping the team out,” Ossai said. “So it’s a huge thing for me, and I’m thankful for it.

“I was ecstatic,” Ossai added. I was just happy because I didn’t know at that point it was gonna be the biggest play of the game, but I’m happy. I’m happy.”

Ossai, a promising third-round draft pick in 2021, missed all of his rookie season because of a complete tear of his lateral meniscus and a wrist injury suffered in a preseason game in which he sacked Tom Brady and hit him three other times.

After spending the entire season rehabbing and recovering, his start to training camp this year was delayed by another procedure on his knee during OTAs. While he was eased back into things, Cam Sample earned more of the opportunities kicking inside to help in nickel defensive line packages, where Ossai also had been getting reps. Ossai played just 12 snaps Sunday and his last one was the biggest.

“I’m just happy for him, personally for him,” Bates said Monday of Ossai’s big play. “I can only imagine being 21 years old, coming into the league, getting hurt the first year. To see his process and then him making a huge play in a critical moment of the game, it’s pretty cool. It’s pretty cool to see someone like that when he’s kind of behind Trey (Hendrickson), Sam (Hubbard), who are really good players, and don’t really get a lot of opportunities. So that’s what we’re about on defense, honestly. We don’t care who makes the plays. As long as you do your job. You may do your job the best, you may still not make the play but someone else is making the play. And that’s what we’re about on defense. So it was good to see.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Browns at Bengals, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1290, 95.7, 102.7, 104.7

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