Cincinnati Bengals’ Auden Tate (19) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Munson)
Photo: John Munson
Photo: John Munson

Cincinnati Bengals: Auden Tate’s breakout game filled with highs, lows

The 6-foot-5, 228-pound target finished with a team-high 88 yards on six catches in the most action he’s seen during his young career, playing 89 percent of the snaps.

»REPORT CARD: Grading the 21-17 loss to the Bills

Tate, a 2018 seventh-round draft pick, had just four catches for 35 yards last year and was inactive Week 1 this season. He had one catch in the home opener last week, a 6-yard grab, before getting his first start Sunday.

“I’m just trying to show the coaching staff Andy trusting me that I can go out and make plays when my name is called,” Tate said. “

That trust built throughout the game, as he overcame a slow start that was accentuated even further when Darius Phillips’ 92-yard kick return for a touchdown was negated by a holding call on Tate. No one else seemed to see it, and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons was baffled by the official’s comments to him that it was “the easiest call” he has made all year.

“He said he grabbed him and spun him around,” Simmons said. “He said it was the easiest call he made all year. That’s what he told me. He said he grabbed and spun him.

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“It’s become very difficult to block anybody and not have it be a hold. I’ve seen plays like Auden had in my 20 years. I’ve seen that play happen and never had an issue with it. We have to try to coach the best we can within the rules. We have to keep the hands inside the body all the time. It’s difficult in the kicking game because you’re in space. You’re dealing with inline play like offensive linemen or defensive linemen or tight ends are. These guys we have are out on the perimeter, out on the edges. With the speed of the game now with skill players it becomes even more difficult.”

The Bills had just taken an 8-0 lead before that kickoff and the Bengals ended up punting for a third straight drive. Buffalo drove down and added a field goal and eventually had a 14-0 lead going into halftime.

Tate said it was a “bang, bang play” and if he had gotten his hands off the player he was blocking quicker, there wouldn’t have been a call.

“I was just blocking up the one, and he was just backing up, so I was just running my feet, running with him and once D.P. got passed, he just turned around and started running,” Tate said. “I didn’t even see exactly — if I’m holding him, he’s not supposed to be able to turn around if I’m holding him, but he saw what he saw and called it.”

Simmons said he couldn’t completely pin the loss to that play, but the call could have completely changed the course of the game.

“Obviously, it was a very integral play of that game,” Simmons said. “Things had not been going that well for us. I thought that play was a huge spark — only to have it called back.”

That call stayed with Tate the rest of the game as he was blocking, but he did his best to make up for it on offense. He finished the half with a 32-yard catch that gave him some confidence to build on coming out of the break.

Tate made some highlight reel grabs, and Andy Dalton and the coaches trusted him enough to go his way on the final throw of the game. Dalton overthrew the pass and Tate could only get a hand on it before it was intercepted at the Bills’ 16-yard line with 12 seconds left.

“I was for sure we were going to go down and win,” Tate said. “Everything was going right. We were driving, looking smooth. It was just unfortunate everything didn’t fall in place. It’s just something we’ve got to work on for next week.”

Although he didn’t come down with the catch, Tate said it was a great feeling just to get the opportunity. He’s been waiting for moments to step up, and Sunday’s game was that for him, as he seems to now have overtaken Damion Willis as A.J. Green’s replacement — though John Ross switched to the X receiver position and Tate played the Z.

Head coach Zac Taylor said Tate’s opportunity didn’t come sooner this season simply because he got hurt at the end of the preseason and didn’t get enough reps in during practices the first two weeks.

“Where Auden has been consistent is: He has aggressive hands and he’s tough, and those are two traits you love and can find a role for,” Taylor said. “He’s physical in the run game. He really looks like a tight end playing receiver. He’s a guy we’re going to find a role for in this offense, and when his number has been called, he’s produced for us. He’s got a great catch radius, and we just felt like he deserved an opportunity.”

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