CINCINNATI (AP) — Tyler Boyd watched some of the Bengals’ worst moments from the sideline, unable to contribute to the NFL’s least-effective offense. The receiver turned those moments into something better when he got another chance.
Boyd finished last season with a big game and carried it over, emerging as Andy Dalton’s top target in a reconstituted offense. He leads the team in catches and yards as the Bengals (3-1) host the Miami Dolphins (3-1) on Sunday.
The third-year receiver from Pitt also has come up with some of their most clutch plays. He had a third-down catch and a pair of fourth-down catches during a winning 16-play drive Sunday in Atlanta, which culminated in A.J. Green’s touchdown catch with 7 seconds left.
He’s been the biggest surprise so far in an offense that’s exceeding expectations.
“He’s a guy who’s playing with a ton of confidence,” quarterback Andy Dalton said . “He’s just playing at a high level now.”
A year ago, he was at a low point.
The Bengals drafted Boyd in the second round in 2016 because of his versatility at Pitt, where he lined up at various positions, ran the ball and even passed on occasion. They moved the 6-foot-2, 203-pound receiver into the slot and saw flashes of possibility. He finished his rookie season with 54 catches for 603 yards and a touchdown.
He struggled the next season along with the rest of the offense. He missed four games with a knee injury and was inactive two other times. He had no more than two catches in any game until the last two.
“It was definitely a roller-coaster ride for me, ups and downs the whole way,” Boyd said. “Especially when I got hurt, it kind of went down from there.”
Coach Marvin Lewis thinks his time watching from the sideline changed him.
“Then when he got an opportunity to suit up again, I thought he practiced differently,” Lewis said. “A part of coming back is going out there on the practice field and showing, ‘I am healthy and ready to go.’ I thought he did those things and used it as a catalyst.”
Boyd had a 49-yard touchdown catch with 44 seconds left in a game in Baltimore that got the Bengals a season-ending win and knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs. He impressed during training camp and has grown into a reliable receiver on the most pressure-packed plays.
His finest game was Sunday in Atlanta, where he had a career-high 11 catches for 100 yards. He had a third-down reception and a pair of fourth-down catches during Cincinnati’s winning drive. Boyd had a total of four catches for 38 yards on the drive, beating man-to-man coverage on slant routes as the Falcons focused on Green.
“My quarterback, I want to show him how reliable I am to let him know he can trust me,” Boyd said. “So I want to continue every time they’re in man coverage, we’re in a tight down and need a first down, he can rely on me.”
Boyd leads the team with 26 catches — four more than his total last season — for 349 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The only thing he hasn’t gotten to do is throw the ball, something he did at Pitt. The Bengals have a play for him to pass, but haven’t called it yet.
“I’m a guy that can do a lot of things: I can throw, I can line up in the backfield, you can place me all over the place,” he said. “I think I’m ready for it — always ready for it — but I’m just anxious to see when they put it in.”
GIO OUT AGAIN
Running back Giovani Bernard was held out of practice for a second straight day with a knee injury. Running back Joe Mixon had a second straight limited practice. Mixon missed the past two games following arthroscopic surgery to remove a piece of cartilage from his knee and is hoping to be ready for the Dolphins.
Receiver John Ross also was held out of practice with a strained groin — he had been limited a day earlier. Defensive end Carl Lawson (ankle) and linebacker Michael Johnson (knee) also were limited on Thursday. Linebacker Preston Brown (shoulder) and offensive guard Alex Redmond (shoulder) fully practiced.