EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –– Earlier this week, when the Cincinnati Bengals had an 0-2 record and a season that was a loss away from spiraling, wide receiver Tee Higgins said there was a “look in Joe Burrow’s eyes” that was giving the team confidence.
It’s one thing for a team to believe in its quarterback when you’re rolling through the AFC, shredding opposing defenses and looking like you’re well on track as Super Bowl contenders. But what makes Burrow a franchise quarterback is that even when the Bengals’ back is against the wall, they’re never truly out of it.
On Sunday at MetLife Stadium, Burrow started what could be the Bengals’ next great escape. The Bengals beat the Jets 27-12 and their offense looked like the unit everyone expected at the start of the season. Burrow shrugged off the pressure, and he threw three touchdowns against the blitz. He finished the game completing 23 of 36 passes for 275 yards.
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Even before the game started, head coach Zac Taylor showed that he believed the Bengals needed to shake it up.
The Bengals virtually always choose to defer the opening kickoff and take the ball to start the second half. Last season, one of the Bengals’ biggest strengths was how they scored before the end of the first half and doubled up in the third quarter. But last season’s team didn’t fall behind by double digits early in each of the first two games of the season.
The Bengals took the ball first on Sunday and marched down the field for a game-opening touchdown drive. It was the most aggressive Taylor has ever been in the first quarter. He only called one run, and Taylor dialed up a deep shot on a trick play that included a toss back by running back Joe Mixon.
Burrow looked like his usual self, extending plays outside of the pocket and showing pinpoint accuracy with his throws on the run. To end the opening drive, Burrow rolled out of the pocket, sprinted to his left and found running back Samaje Perine in the end zone.
Burrow stressed this week that the Bengals needed to start the game faster to avoid the two-score deficits that had set the wrong tone for their first two games. The Bengals had a near-perfect start this week, and Burrow played his best football of the season.
With Burrow at the helm, the Bengals have a track record of getting out of jams. The Bengals went from a last-place team to the Super Bowl. When they were on a two-game losing streak last December, the team responded by playing its best football of the year. When the Bengals went down by three scores in the AFC Championship Game, they got a comeback win.
The latest adversity has been an 0-2 start where the offense looked broken. The Bengals lost to teams quarterbacked by Mitchell Trubisky and Cooper Rush. Taylor made game management decisions that hurt the team in each game.
According to center Ted Karras, the message after the Week 2 loss in Dallas was that in just 10 days, the Bengals could be back at 2-2 and squarely in the mix in the AFC North. The Bengals accomplished the first step by beating the Jets.
Taylor put the game in Burrow’s hands, and the offense was more aggressive than it has been all season. On the final play of the first quarter, the Jets sent a blitz while double-teaming Ja’Marr Chase. Burrow stayed calm in the pocket and kept his eyes up through a crowded pocket.
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd got open in the middle of the field, and Burrow made the throw under pressure. After Boyd spun away from a tackle, he raced free for a 56-yard touchdown. Burrow finished the first quarter with 163 passing yards, and the Bengals took a 20-9 lead into halftime.
It wasn’t a perfect start to the game. Chase fumbled, the Bengals failed to punch the ball in from the goal-line and only scored 3 points after an interception in Jets’ territory. But the Bengals offensive line was solid, Burrow found opportunities to throw the ball deep and the Jets couldn’t cover all three Bengals’ wide receivers.
Following two weeks where the Bengals defense was good but not spectacular, the unit took a big step forward. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson had his best game of the season, creating consistent pressure, drawing a holding penalty, forcing three fumbles and picking up 2.5 sacks.
Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson got the team’s first interception of the season, and the safeties took away every chance Jets quarterback Joe Flacco had to throw the ball down the field. After the Jets’ third punt of the first half, the crowd booed the offense as it left the field. Hendrickson forced another fumble to open the second half, the Bengals recovered and later scored on a touchdown throw from Burrow to Chase that put the team up 27-9 in the third quarter.
Burrow led the Bengals through adversity, and Cincinnati picked up its first win of the season.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Bengals down Jets as Joe Burrow, offense finds their groove