CINCINNATI — When Evan McPherson’s 35-yard field went through the uprights as time expired, three things happened.
1) It gave the Cincinnati Bengals a 3-1 record and first place in AFC North Division.
2) It put quarterback Joe Burrow’s record against Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence at 2-0.
3) It kept Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer winless in the NFL at 0-4.
The Bengals spotted Jacksonville 14 points in the first half, but came back to win 24-21 in the final seconds at Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday Night Football in front of 63,198 people.
McPherson’s heroics were set up when Burrow connected with tight end C.J. Uzomah, who rumbled 25 yards on a screen pass inside field-goal range.
“I knew we were going to score,” Uzomah said after the game about the 25-yard play. “I went back on the field like, ‘Oh, we won. We’re going to score a touchdown or a field goal, but obviously we won this game.’ Especially, how we played in the second half.”
Uzomah had a banner night, and brought down two touchdowns and finished with five catches for 95 yards.
Nothing was going right for the Orange and Black.
They couldn’t stop Jacksonville, and they could not get the ball moving on offense.
With just over four minutes to go before the break, the Bengals had six yards rushing — yes, SIX, while the Jags had 113.
“Let me start by saying we didn’t give them much to cheer for in the first half,” Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor said. “The crowd was electric and if we can get that for every home game, it would be such an advantage for us.”
With a 14-0 lead, Jacksonville had a fourth-and-goal at the one-yard line with a few seconds remaining before the half.
Instead of taking a 17-0 lead into the half, Meyer went for the knockout punch … and missed.
Logan Wilson and the Cincinnati defense stuffed the play and kept the deficit to within two touchdowns.
“I don’t know if I was surprised they didn’t kick a field goal,” Wilson said. “They’d shown previously that they like to pull the ball and run with Trevor (Lawrence.) We got our backs put against the wall and just made a stop.”
Taylor made major adjustments in the locker room.
The same Bengal team that went into the half was not the same team that came out for the third quarter.
Burrow fired on all cylinders in the opening drive of the third.
He connected with Ja’Marr Chase on a 44-yard pass, then found Uzomah who faked out a defender after he caught the pass for a 22-yard TD.
“We had not played great football,” Burrow said about the first half. “They genuinely beat us in all three phases. I don’t know if it was their best show, but it sure felt like it and we were not playing good football. We had a whole second half to play, so there was no real to panic and nobody did. Everyone was calm and collected.”
The defense forced a three-and-out and Burrow, who finished with 348 yards passing and completed 25 of 32 passes with two touchdowns, went to work.
He led a 12-play, 86-yard drive that culminated when Joe Mixon plunged in from one-yard out with 9: 50 to go in the third.
“It’s just a different feel for this team right now,” Burrow added about the comeback. “The football character is through the roof.”
Mixon finished the game with 67-yards rushing, but suffered an ankle injury on the final drive and did not return.
Both teams traded touchdowns and that set the stage for McPherson’s game-winner.
Jacksonville has lost 19 consecutive games since its opening-week win last year.
It is now tied for the third-longest losing steak in the history of the NFL.
Remember when Tampa Bay lost the first 26 games when they started?
And then there is Chicago, which lost 29 straight games between 1942 and 1945.
Jacksonville has a legitimate chance to come close or surpass the unwanted milestone.
“That’s devastating, heartbreaking,” Meyer said after the loss. “These guys, and usually I’m not wrong about stuff like that. I just see a good team in there. I see good guys. I see good hearts. This team is going to win some games. That’s a heartbroken locker room.”
For Burrow, it was the second time his team knocked off a squad led by Lawrence.
On Jan. 13, 2020, Burrow took LSU to a National Championship victory over Clemson 42-35.
Both quarterbacks were No. 1 picks in the NFL draft — Burrow in 2020 and Lawrence last year.
The win moves Cincinnati, who beat Pittsburgh four days before, a half-game in front of Baltimore and Cleveland.
They will make use of the extra time to prepare for the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers on Oct. 10 in Cincinnati.
“It is critical to get this momentum going into a 10-day work week against an opponent who’s been in the last two AFC championship games,” Taylor added.
One thing is certain – the Bengals cannot afford to wait until the second half to play football against Green Bay.
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Del Duduit covers the Bengals for the Portsmouth Daily Times.