Early in the second quarter, Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver Tyler Boyd sprinted stride-for-stride next to each other down the field. Boyd carried the ball as he finished a 68-yard touchdown that gave the Bengals a 10-point lead, and Mixon was Boyd’s lead blocker.
When it became clear Boyd would score on the play, Mixon pointed one finger in the air and spun in a circle. Then Boyd flipped into the end zone.
This was a moment for which Mixon and Boyd had waited a long time.
On Sunday, the Bengals broke the tie for first place in the AFC North by beating the Baltimore Ravens, 41-21. With a franchise-record 525 passing yards from Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, Cincinnati took a 1 1/2-game lead for first place in the division with two games remaining, and the Bengals had their fourth statement division win of the season.
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It was the most important game Mixon and Boyd had played during their NFL careers, and it resulted in a win over the team that entered the season as AFC North favorites.
Since Boyd was drafted in 2016 and Mixon was drafted in 2018, they both waded through losing seasons and December games in front of empty stadiums. They witnessed a coaching change and a near dismantling of a team that played in five straight postseasons between 2011 and 2015.
When the Bengals hired head coach Zac Taylor in 2019, he identified Mixon and Boyd as the two players on the offense who could be featured pieces of the next Bengals playoff team. On Sunday, Mixon and Boyd were rewarded for their patience.
The Bengals faced an undermanned Ravens team that was missing starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, two starting offensive linemen and most of its secondary. But for a Bengals team that clinched its first winning season since 2015, the win over the Ravens was still a long-awaited moment for the franchise.
Burrow took over the game in the first quarter. With the Bengals down 7-3, Burrow completed four passes to open receivers to set up a touchdown run by Mixon. The Bengals got the ball back three minutes later, and Burrow delivered the 68-yard touchdown throw to Boyd.
On the play, two Ravens defensive backs covered Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah and two covered Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. Boyd cut up the middle of the field, and Burrow found him wide open for another long touchdown pass.
On the following series, Burrow led a seven-play, 58-yard drive that gave the Bengals a 24-7 lead with four minutes left in the second quarter. With two first down passes to Higgins, a first down pass to Ja’Marr Chase and a touchdown throw to Mixon, Burrow put the Ravens in the rearview mirror.
In the first half alone, Chase, Higgins and Boyd all had receptions of at least 20 yards. Mixon added a 19-yard run, and Burrow had 299 passing yards. The Bengals offense played a near-perfect first half in the most important game of the season.
The Bengals virtually clinched the victory in the last two minutes of the first half. On third down, Burrow showed his confidence in Higgins and threw a jump ball into double coverage. Higgins made the highlight reel, leaping grab for a 42-yard pickup. Then Higgins caught a 1-yard touchdown to give the Bengals a 31-14 lead at halftime.
The Bengals offense kept the ball in Burrow’s hands throughout the second half. Instead of running out the clock, Burrow continued to spread the ball around to his best three receivers. Higgins had a career-high 194 receiving yards, Chase had a 125-yard game and Boyd caught the biggest touchdown pass of the day.
In the fourth quarter, Burrow was still dropping back to pass, Higgins was still lowering his shoulder to get to the first down line and Taylor was still calling for deep passes down the field. Burrow completed 37 of his 46 passes for a career-high in passing yards as the Bengals solidified their spot as the favorites in the division.