Tyler Boyd proving to be a leader for rebuilding Bengals

MIAMI -- Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd dragged himself across the turf at Miami's Hard Rock Stadium and knew exactly what he needed to do.

He had to get up. Fighting a cramp, he staggered to the line of scrimmage and avoided a 10-second runoff that would have ended Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton spiked the ball and then threw a 25-yard touchdown pass at the end of regulation, capping a 23-point comeback to send the game into overtime.

Throughout the season, Boyd, 25, has displayed his importance to the franchise's future as he has developed into one of the leaders on a rebuilding roster.

"He's been great," Dalton said on Dec. 11. "He's a guy that we rely on a lot. As he has had more production, as he has had more opportunities, just the type of guy he is, he's definitely grown into a leader on this team."

Boyd had season-highs in catches (nine), targets (five), receiving yards (128) and touchdowns (two) in the 38-35 loss to the Dolphins. He is 13 yards shy of his second consecutive 1,000-yard season.

While his production has been critical, his presence as a leader is equally as significant for Cincinnati's offense. The future of key veterans such as Dalton, tight end Tyler Eifert and wide receiver A.J. Green is in question after this season.

And throughout the season, Boyd hasn't been shy about voicing his concerns with those around him. After he was targeted a season-low three times in the Week 11 loss at Oakland, he said he needed the ball more.

Rookie quarterback Ryan Finley, who was the starter at the time, didn't take any offense to that.

"Because he's so consistent and performs at such a high level, he has that credibility to speak out," Finley said. "I think he's done a really good job."

First-year Bengals coach Zac Taylor hasn't been exempt from that criticism. After the Bengals lost to the Patriots in Week 15 and Taylor said the receivers were "bullied," Boyd responded by saying he didn't think the game plan and scheme was what it should have been.

And like Finley, Taylor didn't take exception to it. He understood why Boyd was frustrated.

"T.B. is a guy I respect the hell out of," Taylor said of Boyd the day after the loss on Dec. 15.

Boyd is also willing to shoulder blame. The week after he griped about the lack of targets, Boyd had five catches for 101 yards but had a late fumble in the 17-10 loss to the Steelers on Nov. 24. As Finley hung his head at his locker after the game, Boyd went up to the rookie quarterback and said he should have held onto the ball.

"If anybody wants to point the finger, it's [on] me," Boyd said.

Plays like the one he made at the end of the Dolphins game show why he's respected around the locker room and has the clout to say things others can't.

During the Bengals' final drive of regulation, Boyd made the 29-yard reception that put Cincinnati in striking distance of the end zone with four seconds left. Then Boyd fought through the cramp and got lined up in time for Dalton to spike the ball before a touchdown pass to Eifert at the end of regulation.

"It's bigger than the game," Boyd said. "It shows guys continuing to have each other's back, including me. I knew after the catch when I went down and started cramping, I knew I had to just get up to hurry up and clock the ball so we get one more chance at the end zone."

Boyd has already started to live up to the four-year, $43 million contract extension he signed in July. With his words and actions this season, Boyd showed why he will be an important part of what Taylor is trying to build in Cincinnati.

"We're very confident that it's going to pay off for us," Taylor said.