CINCINNATI — Evan McPherson’s 33-yard field goal with five seconds to go in the overtime period did two things for the Cincinnati Bengals.
1. It provided the Bengals a 27-24 win in their season opener against the Minnesota Vikings in front of 56,525 fans at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
2. It took away some heat from Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor after a controversial decision in the third quarter to go for a first down.
The first-year kicker from Florida drilled the field goal to put the Bengals at 1-0 on the season at the end of the overtime period.
“A rookie kicker stepped up in the first game and came through,” Taylor said, after the game. “And I don’t care how long that kick is … that’s a tense situation, especially for the rookie.”
The game-winner was set up when Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow was faced with a fourth-and-inches with the ball on the Bengals’ 48-yard line.
Burrow saw the middle stacked and went to the second play called in the huddle, and connected with tight end C.J. Uzomah for a 32-yard gain.
That play set the stage for McPherson’s heroics.
”It was a beautiful ball, and (Burrow) was dropping dimes all day, so I was just another one,” Uzomah said.
Burrow was confident in his ability and his team in crunch time.
”When the game’s on the line, I like the ball in my hands,” he said.
That particular fourth-down call worked.
However, the one in the third quarter was a bust and helped the Vikings get back into the game.
The Bengals had scored 21 straight points to take a 21-7 lead over the Vikings (0-1) by the 9:15 mark in the third quarter.
Cincinnati was faced with a fourth and one, with the ball on its own 30-yard line.
Taylor decided to go for the first down.
Why not punt the ball deep to Minnesota and protect the 21-7 lead?
Why risk giving the ball to the Vikings with a short field?
Everyone around me in the press box was saying, “what is he doing?”
Despite having a 70-percent success rate last year on fourth downs, the Bengals were stuffed at the line and gave the ball over on downs to the Vikings.
Four plays later, Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins found Adam Thielen for the 30-yard score with 2:24 to play in the period.
Just like that, Minnesota was back in the game.
“I just felt like we could steel a victory right there,” Taylor added. “I should have had a better play call. That wasn’t our best call. We were outmanned at the point of attack. I kicked myself because they got the momentum back. I don’t take back the decision – but the call could have been better.”
I don’t agree with that statement.
He should have punted.
With 14:13 to go in the fourth, McPherson nailed a 53-yarder to give the Bengals a 24-14 lead.
But the Vikings came back and scored 10 straight to send the game into overtime.
Burrow turned in a solid performance as the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL draft threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns in his return after major knee surgery last year.
He connected with former Louisiana State University teammate Ja’Marr Chase five times for 101 yards, which included a well-timed 50-yard strike from with 35 seconds to go before the half.
Chase was coming off a shaky preseason, when the first-round draft pick dropped several passes.
When Burrow sat down at the press conference, he asked the media “I thought he was dropping everything?”
That earned a few chuckles.
He went on to add that “I had a couple guys come up to me and say, ‘You know, I hope Ja’Marr comes to play today.’ ” Burrow said. ”I said don’t worry — it’s Sunday, it’s game day, he’s going to come ready to play.”
On the other end, Minnesota was plagued by penalties.
The Vikings were penalized 12 times for 116 yards, including for three false starts on the first drive of the game.
They had four penalties on their first eight plays.
The only turnover of the game was Dalvin Cook’s fumble in overtime.
Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon, who made a return from a foot injury that sidelined him much of last season, rushed for 127 yards and had a two-yard touchdown plunge in the third quarter.
Cousins passed for 351 yards and two touchdowns to Thielen for the Vikings.
Overall, the Bengals started the season out with a win.
And in the NFL, any win is a good one.
But this victory could have gone without the excitement in the end.
Cincinnati travels to Chicago next week.
Del Duduit covers the Bengals for the Daily Times.
Minnesota: 0-7-7-10-0 — 24
Cincinnati: 0-14-7-3-3 – 27
Second Quarter: 6: 39 MV Adam Thielen 5-yard pass from Kirk Cousins (Greg Joseph kick) 7-0.
1: 47 CB Tee Higgins 2-yard pass from Joe Burrow (Evan McPherson kick) 7-7.
:35 CB Ja’Marr Chase 50-yard pass from Joe Burrow (Evan McPherson kick) 14-7.
Third quarter: 9: 15 CB Joe Mixon 2-yard run (Evan McPherson kick) 21-7.
2: 24 MV Adam Thielen 24-yard pass from Kirk Cousins (Greg Joseph kick) 21-14.
Fourth quarter: 14: 14 CB Evan McPherson 53-yard field goal. 24-14.
9: 23 MV Dalvin Cook 1-yard run (Greg Joseph kick) 24-21.
0:00 MV Greg Joseph 53-yard field goal 24-24.
Overtime: CB Evan McPherson 33-yard field goal 27-24