CINCINNATI – Alex Erickson had a dazzling debut to his NFL career, scoring a pair of touchdowns for the Cincinnati Bengals in a 17-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Paul Brown Stadium on Friday, Aug. 12.
Erickson, a 6’0” 195-lbs. wide receiver, caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from A.J. McCarron with 47 seconds remaining in the second quarter to cut the Vikings’ lead to 10-7 at the time, and then he gave the Bengals a chance to grab a late lead when by using his dynamic return skills on a jaw-dropping 80-yard punt return touchdown to trim the deficit to 17-16.
Erickson, a former gridiron star at Darlington High School and the University of Wisconsin, finished the night with one reception for three yards and a touchdown on two targets, one rush for three yards and one punt return for 80 yards and another score.
All in all, it added up to a big opening night for an undrafted rookie who is fighting for a spot on the Bengals’ 53-man final roster among a talented group of young wide receivers in camp.
“As a competitor, any time you have a chance for something, you feel like you’re in it,” Erickson said. “I’m not trying to worry about the numbers at all.”
It was the first time in his storied football career he returned a punt for a touchdown and caught a touchdown in the same game. The punt return was the first to find paydirt for Erickson since his senior year of high school in 2010 when he returned two kicks for scores.
The first came in a 42-28 win over Fennimore on Sept. 10, when he race 81-yards punt return to put the Redbirds up 7-0, and the second game the Redbirds’ Oct. 1 Homecoming Game when as Homecoming King he opened the scoring in a 44-7 rout over Mineral Point with an 82-yard punt return TD.
But, neither of those returns were as dramatic– or maybe as important– as his return on Friday night, which would later place him at #3 on the ESPN Sportscenter Plays of the Day.
After being driven back to his own 20-yard line on a booming kick by Minnesota punter Jeff Locke, Erickson headed up the field, breaking six tackles along the– including a log-jam at the Bengals’ 30– and turned on the jets to outrace everybody into the end zone.
“I knew I was going to have a chance to return it, just because the punter drove it— he hit it pretty good. I caught it going backwards, and you want to catch it going forward,” Erickson said at the interview podium after the game. “I was able to cut off some of their blocks and got on the punter and outran everybody. On a punt return, that’s such a long play. After looking at the clip you can just tell everyone was straining. It makes it fun when you just do your part and everyone else is doing their part as well.
“When you’re driven back, there’s going to be more space. There’s going to be more room to make guys miss. It also makes it harder on our guys. They’ve got to run a little.”
The Bengals’ two-point conversion try failed as the Vikings held on for the victory.
Since being signed to a free agent contact earlier this year, Erickson has done nothing but impress the Bengals’ coaching staff with his hard work, his sure hands and his consistency. From rookie camp to OTAs to training to his first-ever pre-season NFL game, he has caught the eye of receivers coach Jeff Urban, head coach Marvin Lewis and many others in the Cincinnati organization.
Bengals’ radio personality and former player Dave Lapham has gushed that he “is like a 10-year veteran” in camp. Not bad praise for a player who listed at sixth on the team’s depth chart at the receiver position and fourth as a returner heading into the game.
After Friday’s game, that may have changed a bit, but he knows he still has a lot of work to do in order to make the final roster.
The Bengals head to Detroit for their second pre-season game against the Lions at Ford Field on Thursday, Aug. 18. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CST.