CINCINNATI – Tyler Boyd's expression gave away his thoughts.
He couldn't help the smile that came over his face when he was asked a question about his hot start while sitting at his locker a few days after he caught 11 passes for 100 yards to help the Bengals beat the Falcons. Boyd leads the team through four games with 26 receptions for 349 yards and two touchdowns.
Is this how he imagined things could be when he dreamed of playing in the NFL?
"Definitely. This is my intention," Boyd said. "Coming out of high school, I expected to go to college and do big things. Coming out of college, I expected to go into the NFL and do the same thing, but the NFL has been kind of slow. I've had to wait my turn. At every level, I've expected myself to do great things."
Boyd has always believed in himself, but it might have taken a little longer for the Bengals to believe in him. Boyd played in only 10 games last season and finished with 225 receiving yards and two touchdowns. It was difficult for him to sit and watch the offense struggle when he felt as if he could help somehow.
"It was definitely a roller-coaster ride for me, ups and downs the whole way. Especially when I got hurt, kind of went down from there. There were games when I was inactive. At the end of the day it's just football," Boyd said. "I don't want the game that I love to ruin the rest of my life, I don't want to be away from this team or feel any way to any players or coaches or anything like that. So I just let it play out and let things come to me and be patient. I think that's one of the key things you have to have coming into a business like the National Football League. So it paid off."
That patience has paid off indeed, as the Bengals' start to the season has been everything Boyd imagined and more. Boyd is no longer just a number on a depth chart. He's now the No. 2 receiver behind A.J. Green, the first option when Green isn't open, and a player the team appears to trust completely. He can play in the slot or outside, can take the underneath route when teams choose to devote their coverage to others, or go for the deep ball.
Green got the glory when he caught the winning touchdown to beat the Falcons, but it was Boyd who converted one third down and two fourth downs on that final drive.
"I hate to lose. For it to come down to me versus him, I want to be the guy to win," Boyd said. "My quarterback, I want to show him how reliable I am to let him know he can trust me. 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."
Rewind a year ago, and it didn't necessarily seem as if the former second-round pick would get to this point. Boyd was dealing with a lot in 2017, including a misdemeanor drug charge after a vehicle registered to Boyd was found wrecked and unattended at 3 a.m.
Boyd said he was not in the car at the time and one of his friends accepted fault for the incident. Charges for possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia were dismissed last March.
Boyd was a healthy inactive in Week 2 that season, and reports at the time said Boyd's practice habits led to his benching, although he has always maintained that it was a numbers game because they wanted to see first-round pick John Ross play.
"We had more receivers than anything, and me and John didn't play special teams. We both did punt returns but neither one of us was a starter. That was when John was coming off his injury and they wanted to see what he was capable of."
It wasn't the last time Boyd would be a healthy scratch, as he didn't play against the Vikings later that year despite not being on the injury report. Boyd also missed several games because of a knee injury, but all he wanted to do was play.
"Every guy who's not playing feels they can help, regardless of the issue," Boyd said. "So I just definitely let that soak in -- the next opportunity I get, I've got to show them this is why I should be in. I've got to show them I'm accountable and consistent to allow them to place me out there every down."
Perhaps all of that changed him in some way. With Boyd's success now, the idea of sitting him without an injury seems laughable. And even Boyd will say last year seems like a distant memory. The team couldn't score, the offensive coordinator got fired, and the mood in the locker room wasn't exactly jovial.
Coach Marvin Lewis says he believes the light went on for Boyd after his injured knee forced him to the sidelines.
"He had to sit and watch. I think that was a big part. I think that that was great for him ... when you take a step back and have a chance to evaluate things," Lewis said. "Then when he got an opportunity to suit up again, I thought he practiced differently. 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. We have a lot of belief in Tyler."
Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will point to the season finale, when Boyd caught five passes for 91 yards, including the winning 49-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-12.
"I think that's always what Tyler was," said Lazor, who made an attempt to recruit Boyd out of high school as Virginia's then-offensive coordinator. "The guys's a football player, he's a playmaker, he's smart, he has great abilities physically, which is obviously showing up and what showed up Sunday [on fourth down] ...
"We shouldn't be surprised because we saw it happen on fourth down against Baltimore last game of last season. He just said, 'Well, I can win.' He kind of plays every play the same."
Boyd has admitted the way he ended the season gave him a boost going into 2018, but he said he has always known what he had the ability to do, whether he was playing or not. And that's how he thinks the entire offense is playing right now.
"I think every guy in the offense, starting with the center to the quarterback, thinks we can't be stopped," Boyd said. "Everybody's got that mentality. We get in the huddle every time and we're like, 'We've got to score again.' The sense of urgency is super high."