CINCINNATI — Joe Burrow's NFL debut had a little bit of everything. There were big hits, turnovers, penalties and plenty of drama.
The only thing missing was a Bengals win. From audibling into a quarterback draw that turned into a 23-yard touchdown run, to leading his team down the field in the closing seconds for the potential game-winning score, the rookie signal-caller did everything he could to will his team to victory.
It wasn't pretty for Burrow and the Bengals on offense. He was sacked three times in the first half. The team only had 88 total yards at the break. Things improved from a protection standpoint in the second half, but they still came up short.
The Bengals had two fourth quarter turnovers. Joe Mixon fumbled for the first time in nearly 600 carries. Then, Burrow threw an awful shovel pass to Giovani Bernard. Chargers defensive end made a great play on the ball, which halted a potential Bengals scoring drive in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Despite the flaws, the Bengals got the ball back trailing 16-13 with 3:08 remaining.
Burrow calmly led the offense down the field. First, he ran for seven yards. Then, he found Tyler Boyd on back-to-back plays. He followed that up with a 15-yard pass to John Ross.
"We just got them on their heels a little bit," Burrow said after the game. "We got in a good rhythm. I got in a good rhythm with my guys a little bit — it was the first rhythm I felt all day, and we started moving the ball pretty well. Unfortunately, it was too little too late."
Burrow finished 8-of 11 for 70 yards and completed passes to six different players on the final drive.
Unfortunately, that's where the drive stopped. Burrow appeared to find Green for the game-winning touchdown with seven seconds left, but the seven-time Pro Bowler was called for offensive pass interference.
"It definitely was the winning touchdown," Green said afterwards. "He was clamping me the whole time. Coming off the ball within five yards, so if you’re are gonna call that, we can call that both ways. But they made the call and we lost the game."
It would've been a storybook ending for Burrow and Green. The young savior leads the team back from a fourth quarter deficit in his first NFL game. Green, who hadn't played a full NFL game in nearly 23 months, making the game-winning catch.
It was there. He caught it. He beat Casey Hayward Jr. It was the game-winner. The Bengals had it, until they didn't.
Green and Hayward were battling each other, just hoping to make a play.
"That's what it looked like," head coach Zac Taylor said. "Tough. That was a tough view for me to see. Critical play of the game. That's a tough one."
Burrow finding Green for the game-winning touchdown would've been a fairytale ending.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, the offensive pass interference penalty led to a perfect ending for the Chargers.
Cincinnati sent Randy Bullock onto the field to kick a game-tying field goal. He had already made field goals from 43 and 50-yards earlier in the contest. This attempt was from 31-yards.
Bullock missed the kick wide right and the Chargers escaped with a win.
"The last play, for whatever reason during the kicking motion, my left calf just grabbed real hard," Bullock said after the game. "Obviously that's not an excuse. That's a kick that I make 99 times out of 100. It was a freak deal. I let the team down, and I'm really frustrated and disappointed. I don't know how any of it led to that."
Bullock will be re-evaluated on Monday. The Bengals have a quick turnaround, with their Week 2 matchup against the Browns on Thursday night. They need to act quickly if Bullock isn't going to be able to suit up.
"I plan to kick on Thursday unless told otherwise," Bullock said. "Whatever I need to do to be prepared to play on Thursday and be there for my team and come out on top, unlike today, I plan on doing that."
Bullock answered every question that reporters had for him after the game. He was clearly upset. He knew that he let the team down.
He wasn't the only one. There were plenty of plays that these guys wished they had back.
The good news is the No. 1 pick got crushed for most of the day on Sunday and still put the team on his back when it mattered most.
He drove them down field. He threw what very well could've been the game-winner to Green. He was nearly flawless on that final drive.
If Burrow is going to continue to play with that level of focus and resilience, then he and the Bengals are going to be just fine.
"That guy doesn't flinch," Green said. "The way he handled himself in that last drive was unbelievable. I haven't seen any rookie the way he handled it after adversity. We got a special one in Joe."
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