Eifert’s return buoys Bengals passing game

After a slow start, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron was glad to have a big target like Tyler Eifert to help get things going.

In his first game back from a concussion that sidelined him for two weeks, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end put the Bengals on the board with a 22-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter of a 24-16 win over the Ravens on Sunday.

It was his team-leading 13th touchdown reception this season and first from McCarron, who took over at quarterback the same time Eifert went out following a helmet-to-helmet collision with Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell on Dec. 13.

“He is an unbelievable player for us and a great target,” McCarron said of Eifert. “He really made some good plays today and definitely helped us out.”

Eifert said it was frustrating to watch from the sidelines while in concussion protocol but “it felt really good to be back out there,” Sunday.

He finished with 51 yards on four catches, giving him 615 yards for the season after missing all but a few minutes of the 2014 season because of an elbow injury.

“I was going through the season and getting into a groove, and then I missed a couple of weeks,” Eifert said of this season, his third in the NFL. “I really just wanted to get back out there to help the guys win. It was just good to help get a win for us.”

Eifert practiced Wednesday with the team for the first time since suffering the concussion but said he had no hesitations or fears about what his first tackle would feel like Sunday.

His last concussion was early in his college career at Notre Dame.

“I wasn’t even thinking about that because I practiced, I’ve hit people in practice, and my head feels fine,” Eifert said. “It’s not even part of the thought process.”

The touchdown came as McCarron, making his third career start, had just started to heat up. The 2014 fifth-round draft pick completed 3 of 7 passes for 24 yards in the first quarter but was 7-for-10 with 91 yards in the second quarter.

McCarron connected with Eifert on an 11-yard toss early in the second quarter before finding him on a deep left pass for a go-ahead score at 7-6 with 1:49 left before intermission. The Ravens answered with a field goal but the Bengals took control with an even more efficient effort from McCarron in the second half.

Eifert said he wasn’t worried about a lack of chemistry with the new quarterback, though he didn’t have any catches in the second half.

“He’s our quarterback and he understands coverages,” Eifert said. “He’s a smart guy. A lot of people talk about chemistry, and we haven’t played together all season, but he knows where to go with the ball, he knows how to read defenses and all those things. He played well, and he’ll be fine.”

McCarron said he didn’t necessarily need game experience with Eifert to develop a connection with him on the field. The two worked hard this week in practice to prepare, and Eifert just has a knack for making plays.

“He knows where to be, and I have a good feel for where he is going to be,” McCarron said. “I think it showed on the touchdown pass. I knew he was going to end up being there, and the defender was looking at me, so I let it go, and he did an excellent job of making the catch for the TD. There are certain guys that you know the feel they are going to have for the game and how they play the game, and he is just one of those guys.”