CINCINNATI — There’s no better barometer of the Bengals than their superstar receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
The first five weeks of the season, Chase was mostly serious and focused on the task at hand, knowing his quarterback was not at full strength and neither was the offense.
On Thursday, after catching a team-record 15 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-20 win, Chase was in a playful and engaging mood in front of his locker.
Coincidence? Perhaps. But one stroll through the Bengals locker room this week and you can tell the mood is changing.
The Bengals really do need to follow up Sunday’s win in Arizona with a solid winning performance against Seattle heading into the bye.
Chase wasn’t about to get triggered by some proxy trash talking coming from Seattle star receiver DK Metcalf. In all honesty, it wasn’t actually even trash talk by today’s standards coming from Metcalf. It was standing up for his rookie teammate Devon Witherspoon, who will be charged with and likely assigned Chase in coverage during Sunday’s showdown at Paycor.
“I think Spoon will get the best of him,” Metcalf said.
“That’s why I didn’t say anything,” Chase said. “Until he say something I’ll say something. But it’s DK. I’m not checking DK. DK’s not checking me. He’s just saying what he wants to say at the end of the day.”
Chase said he intends to let his play do the talking and not get too bogged down in talk.
“I don’t care. I really give zero effs,” Chase added.
Of course, there will be talk. There always is. Remember Chase’s double uno greeting to Minkah Fitzpatrick during the 2022 season opener?
“I love it. It’s sports. I expect people to talk trash to me,” Chase said. “If you don’t talk trash, you don’t like football. I’m usually the one talking first. I don’t think they have time to talk about.”
And when they do?
“I start laughing first,” Chase said. “I haven’t heard anything that’s like, ‘Damn, you said that?’ like damn, it made me think about it.”
In other words, he’s not going faux rage in his mind against Witherspoon. There’ll be plenty of time for that in the heat of battle.
Are there magic words or actions that will trigger him? A line not to be crossed?
“There is no line in trash talking,” Chase told me without missing a beat. “No. There’s no rules to it. That’s why it’s called trash talking.”
Fair enough. That’s what makes Ja’Marr Chase truly an Uno personality in the Bengals room. Every word that comes out of his mouth is true to himself. “To thine own self be true,” Shakespeare famously wrote in Hamlet.
Chase is acting out his own epic play in 17 parts, with the hope of several encores.
Chase is supremely confident. That comes with an intense off-season workout program and in-season work ethic at practice and study of game plans and film. While it was great that he had 15 catches on 19 targets for 192 yards and three TDs, he didn’t need those numbers to boost his confidence.
“I have confidence every game,” Chase said. “It’s not just because I go off and have that many catches. I play with a lot of confidence every game. That’s what I’m here for, to have that confidence, and that confidence probably helps the team. So, you know, I’m just playing my game.”
Chase knows every great NFL receiver needs the mindset of dominating his opponent. He had that against Jalen Ramsey in Super Bowl LVI and he had that last week against a bunch of backups in a banged up Arizona secondary.
“Hell yeah. Hell yeah,” Chase said before being asked if a game like Arizona helps him. His answer was one of the best snapshots of his attitude and what he expects to fight through every game if he playing to his potential.
“It helps, yeah. It helps the defense to double your ass,” Chase said. “Other than that, you should already have confidence as a receiver. That should be your mindset every game.”
Asked if he has his sights set on Brandon Marshall’s NFL single-game reception record of 21, Chase again was honest.
“Brandon really? Damn!” Chase said at first. “I did see that I did. See that. Yeah, I don’t know if I’m gonna get there. I don’t know if I’m get there.”
“I had 18 targets, (actually 19)… I dropped two of them, slant and skinny route in the middle of the field. That was the two I wish I had back but you know, God’s plan man. I appreciate the (coaching) staff upstairs and them just giving me the opportunity to make plays.”
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) October 9, 2023
While Chase is a dominant personality, his best trait is his aforementioned work ethic. He and Joe Burrow pride themselves on the work they put in to make the Bengals offense click, something it has done with regularity over the last two seasons as the season progresses.
“It’s the standard I want to say,” Chase explained. “They expect us to play like that and practice like that every play. It’s how we make the guys around us better, going harder and just pushing everybody around us (to be better).
“As for me, I don’t really (try to lead) I’m not really much of a talker. I leave much by example, but if I have to speak I can, it’s not something that I always do. But for my most part and if I had to speak up, it will probably be in a receiver room, if anything.”
Chase will get his chance to shine again on Sunday against one of the better rookie corners in football. He plans to let his numbers and production do the loudest talking.
Tee Higgins (ribs) and Chido Awuzie (back) were both limited again in practice on Friday and are questionable for Sunday’s game against Seattle. Zac Taylor indicated Friday that he will see how both of them progress over the weekend and get a better feel for a final decision in the hours before Sunday’s 1 p.m. kickoff. Nose tackle Josh Tupou appeared Friday on the injury report with a toe issue and did not practice. He is also questionable for the game. Linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither (right knee) was spotted with crutches in the locker room Friday and is out for Sunday, missing his second straight game. The Bengals will re-assess his status and use the bye week to determine if a trip to the IR is in his future.