According to Elias, rookie wide receiver Charlie Jones’ 81-yarder marks the first time in history that the Bengals’ first touchdown of the season came on a punt return. Jones committed even more history during Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Ravens at Paycor Stadium.
It was the Bengals’ first punt return touchdown in 11 years, four AFC North titles, three presidents, one Super Bowl, and a day, and it came on the fourth return of Jones’ NFL career. He figured since he was 13 in 2012, he was in seventh grade in Deerfield. Ill. Now he’s in his comfort zone.
Even though he saw a flag as he was running down the Bengals sideline on a middle return he took left.
“It was a great feeling whether it was a touchdown or no touchdown,” said Jones of his first punt return touchdown since he went all the way for Iowa three years ago. “(It was like) I got the confidence. I’m good now … I’m getting back to how I used to feel on punt return.”
The refs picked up the flag, apparently convinced that Jones’ fellow rookie wide receiver, Andrei Iosivas, didn’t block cornerback Kevin Seymour in the back, but instead ignited the play cleanly. Another rookie on this kiddie corps for special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons, cornerback DJ Turner, kept his block long enough on the right so Jones had time to catch it, watch Iosivas on the left push Seymour past him, and then just go.
That’s exactly what Jones has wanted to do for the last week. Ever since he felt his first three NFL returns in Cleveland were indecisive. He came home and watched the “Best of Pacman.” It was of course cornerback Adam Jones who was the last to do it for the Bengals on Sept. 16, 2012.
“I figured I’d go watch somebody who was great at it,” Jones said. “I re-watched a lot of his returns …That was my biggest thing of the week. I’ve got confidence back there and whatever I see, I’m going to go with it. Just react. Not overthink anything. He’s fearless back there. He’s got a lot of confidence.”
REWIND FAST FORWARD: It sounds like Bengals center Ted Karras has seen the future after the two-time AFC North champs started 0-2 for the second straight year.
When Karras watched quarterback Joe Burrow put up the offense’s first two touchdowns in the second half, it sounds like the future may be a lot like last year. Remember? When the 0-2 Bengals went to play the Jets? They won the coin toss, took the ball, and scored on the first drive to kick-start a 27-12 win that was the first of 12 wins in the last 14 games of the regular season.
“We got it going in the second half. We don’t need to dip our toe in the water anymore,” Karras said. “We need to dive right in and get some points right away. That’s a big part of our strategy, to score first, obviously. Our record is pretty good when we score first. (We need to) not dip our toe in the water, going down, (have a) 75-yard drive to start games and taking the lead right away.”
After going 2-for-15 on third down in last week in Cleveland, they went 2-for-5 in Sunday’s first half. But they converted eight of their last ten and Burrow, limited to 35 yards passing in that first half, uncorked 187 yards in the second half and that’s hard to do when your longest pass is 13 yards into the Ravens’ back-pedaling zone.
“We always want to start fast,” said Burrow, who finished with 222 yards while completing 66 percent of 41 passes. “Teams play us soft, keep everything in front. I think we did a good job of taking what they gave us today. But if you start fast, teams think twice about playing that way. So, we’ve got to start fast.”
The slow start in games resembles the 0-2 start, which comes after Burrow missed most of training camp with the strained calf he re-aggravated Sunday.
“When your quarterback misses camp, it’s tough to start fast,” Burrow said. “It’s not an ideal situation.”
SEEING RED: Burrow doesn’t do this very often.
He threw just one red zone interception all last year and that wasn’t until Christmas Eve in New England when Devin McCourty got him. You have to go back to Dec. 5, 2021 for his last one at Paycor when Chris Harris of the Chargers was the culprit.
But he knows how much they hurt. He said the pick by the fourth-year Geno Stone, who got his second interception in his 36th game, decided it. Stone made his ninth NFL start in place of Marcus Williams, injured in the opener.
“I saw what he saw,” said head coach Zac Taylor. “Stone did a good job holding on the snap, and then when Joe’s eyes came, he popped over. It’s a veteran safety making a good play.”
As it seems with the most interceptions inside the 20, the quarterback doesn’t account for the guy who makes the interception. In this case, Stone was behind wide receiver Tee Higgins at the goal line and then dropped in front of him.
“A really good play by him, good disguise. But I’ve got to see that,” Burrow said. “Second half, I thought we were rolling. Like I said, you can’t have a red zone turnover against that team. That was on me.”
CALF WATCH: How impressive was Burrow’s last throw of the day? He was getting rushed quickly and as he backpedaled, he threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Higgins off his back foot. Below the calf he says he re-tweaked the play before.
Like he says he’s not sure how the calf is going to feel Monday, He’s also not sure how long he has to manage it, either.
“I don’t know. It’s tough to tell. It’s tough to look into the future and see that,” Burrow said. “I’m doing everything I can to get healthy and get that thing the way I need to so I can go out and perform the way I need to win. We’ll see.”
Backup Jake Browning was throwing as the Ravens ran out the clock, but Taylor and Burrow said he was coming back.”
LAMAR’s DIME: Here’s why it’s ridiculous to say make Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson throw. Note Sunday’s winning points with 11:38 left in a 20-17 game. On third-and-five from the Bengals 17, Jackson picked wide receiver Nelson Agholor out of the slot and feathered a strike over his outside shoulder. A 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to any team coached by a Harbaugh is usually like about 100.
Here’s something else you don’t see much in the red zone. A touchdown pass thrown against Bengals No. 1 cornerback Chidobe Awuzie.
“It was a great ball on his outside shoulder. I’m running with him. I’m getting ready to look back and I see his eyes are getting big (because) the ball’s coming,” Awuzie said. “It was a great ball (but) on my part, I feel I could have anticipated it way better. I could have gotten there sooner. He gave me a look in the beginning where I kind of — it was third-and-short — and I was thinking, ‘He may do a short route,’ and he kind of burst out of there. I was still in good position but again, it was still a great pass and next time it happens, I’ll definitely be ready for that.”
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Bengals safety Nick Scott left with a concussion in the second half …According to Next Gen Stats, in three previous career games following a week with fewer than three catches with at least one target, Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins has averaged 126 yards. That includes his career-best 194 yards on 12 catches against Baltimore in 2021. Add Sunday to the list. Eight catches for 89 yards and those two touchdowns …
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