As Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor analyzed the run game in the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings, he turned his attention to the only negative rushing play of the entire game.
Even though running back Joe Mixon had 127 yards, Taylor looked back at the one play he might have called differently. In the first quarter, Taylor called a jet sweep to rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, and Chase was stopped for a two-yard loss.
But Taylor said he had a good reason for calling it.
“I got a little antsy to get the ball to our playmakers,” Taylor said.
While Chase had dropped his last four passes of the preseason, Taylor was still confident enough in the fifth overall pick that the game plan focused on getting Chase the ball.
Chase rewarded Taylor’s confidence in him with a nearly perfect NFL debut. Chase had five catches for 101 yards, highlighted by a 50-yard touchdown catch before halftime. While the touchdown catch received most of the attention, Chase added a lot more than a deep ball to the Bengals offense.
In his first game, Chase put on display his agility at the line of scrimmage, his ability to fight for extra yards and his chemistry with quarterback Joe Burrow.
“That's what Ja'Marr does,” Burrow said. “We knew exactly what he was going to go out and do. He was ready to go. He was locked in all week. And there was no doubt in my mind how he was going to play.”
In Chase’s debut, he had high expectations. He wanted to score a touchdown before Vikings star wide receiver Justin Jefferson. And wanted to put eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson on his highlight reel.
Chase did both.
Aside from his touchdown catch, Chase made his next-biggest highlight of the game on a play where Burrow didn’t even throw Chase the ball. On one play against Peterson, Chase lined up on the left sideline with Peterson in man coverage. After running five yards, Chase juked to his left toward the sideline. Then he took two quick steps, turned around and sprinted toward the middle of the field.
Chase broke open on the play and leaked wide open over the middle of the field. It was such a quick move that Peterson nearly fell over.
“Everybody liked to talk about the drops, nobody could see the behind-the-scenes work that we have seen,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. “He puts it all in. It’s important to him. He wants to be great. He knows what it is going to take to be great. He’s done all that stuff.”
Burrow said he was never concerned about Chase having a strong start to his NFL career. He said a few teammates asked him about Chase before the game. Burrow said, “don’t worry. It’s Sunday.”
Then after the game, as Burrow followed Chase at the post game press conference podium, Burrow joked, “I thought he couldn’t catch the ball.”
On Chase’s first reception of the game, he showed the benefits of drafting a wide receiver who played in college with the team’s quarterback. On 3rd and 9, Burrow noticed that the Bengals had one more wide receiver on the left side of the field than the Vikings had defensive backs.
Burrow said something to Chase before the play, and Chase knew exactly where to go. They connected on an out route for a first down.
Burrow also mentioned a 3rd and 16 play where Chase caught the ball on a slant. Chase juked past one defensive back and pushed through two others to get within an inch of the first down line.
“He doesn't go down on first contact,” Burrow said. “You can get him the ball, and he's gonna make somebody miss and get you those extra yards… That's why you draft a guy like that. He makes something out of nothing.”
And even though Chase’s touchdown was one of the simplest plays of the game –– a classic throw and catch between quarterback and receiver on a go route –– it changed the rest of the game. Mixon credited Chase’s deep ball for changing the way the Vikings lined up in the box.
After the Vikings started paying more attention to Chase, Mixon had one of his best second halves in his Bengals career.
“I thought (Chase) delivered and that's what we picked him for,” Mixon said. “He took the top off, and that's just going to be great for the run game. Tee (Higgins) was doing things, Tyler (Boyd) was trying to do his thing too. You see, the defense had to play honest. They can't stack the box. And if they want to stack the box, then we will hit them over the top like we did.”
INJURY REPORT: Cornerback Trae Waynes remains out with a hamstring injury, and Eli Apple will start in his place again against the Chicago Bears.
“I think (Apple) did a good job,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “There were no explosives (plays) on him. He covered well. He's got to tackle a little bit better. But overall, I was pleased with the way he played."
ROSTER MOVES: The Bengals placed safety Ricardo Allen on the short-term injured reserve as he deals with an injured hand and an injured hamstring.
With Allen out at least three weeks, the Bengals signed former Pittsburgh Steelers starting safety Sean Davis to the practice squad. The Bengals elevated wide receiver Trenton Irwin from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.