CINCINNATI — Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase – the two long-time friends in football – did Monday night what they have always done. They took care of each other.
Burrow was still clearly limited by his strained right calf that he committed to playing through this season, as long as it will allow him.
And Chase – after speaking out last week about his frustration with a lack of production – had one of the bigger games of his career.
The two had each other’s backs. The Bengals needed both of them to survive the Los Angeles Rams, 19-16, Monday night inside Paycor on “White Bengal Tiger” night.
All anyone could talk about in the hours and days leading up to the game was the status of Cincinnati’s starting quarterback and whether he should or could play through his strained right calf.
“Yes, it still is. It still is. We feel good. We didn’t have any setbacks today, but it’s still day-to-day. I’ve learned through this process that it can happen at any time. So, it was good to get through this one, and that means we’ll be stronger for this week. So, hopefully I can have a full week of practice to prepare for next week.”
Quick aside. If the Bengals have made a $275 million commitment for Burrow to be their franchise quarterback – then one can assume their medical staff wouldn’t have cleared Burrow for the game unless he was fit to play.
What Burrow was able to do on one fully healthy leg Monday night when his team absolutely needed its leader out there is nothing short of remarkable. Burrow completed 26-of-49 passes for 259. He had a couple of balls tipped and a couple of drops but overall, he took care of the ball.
He was just as frustrated as the 65,158 in the stands booing the offense in the first half when they had three drive-killing false starts and little mistakes all over.
“Well, there was some frustration with the pre-snap penalties,” Burrow said. “We have to be better in that area. I thought we controlled the ball really well. … We only had one touchdown, but we controlled the clock. We need to be better when we cross that 50. We were across the 50 quite a bit and weren’t able to put a lot of points on the board. So, we have to be better in that way, but we did control the clock, and I think we were pretty good on third down.”
And the biggest reason they were able to control the clock? His ability to find Ja’Marr Chase. Two plays stand out of the 12 completions to his star receiver. Naked bootleg on first-and-10 at their own 25, Burrow rolls out to his right as Chase Brown motions left. Chase is wide open and Burrow hits him on a bench route for a season-high 42-yard gain.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) September 26, 2023
The rollout raised more than a few eyebrows as Burrow jogged his bootleg.
“That was a discussion we had the last few days, whether we felt comfortable with it,” Zac Taylor said. “I asked him a few plays before and he felt good about it. It’s a quick toss, probably seven steps before he whipped out the bench route to Ja’Marr. He did a great job, stopped his head around and was ready for 97 (Michael Hoecht) on the edge. Ja’Marr did a great job coming out of it and selling it like he was on the backside of the run.”
And then, on third-and-10 at the LA 44, Burrow hits Chase for 13 yards to the 31 and manages to throw the ball behind Chase to keep his receiver from getting drilled by the safety. Chase had to reach behind him but made the catch and got up because the closing safety didn’t send him into Tuesday. That’s how the two take care of each other.
“All I can do is make him look good,” Chase said. “That’s the best I can do, make him look good. He helps me look good. We make each other look good. Just being there for him. That’s all I can do is be there for him.”
I asked Burrow what those words mean to him.
“Coming into this game, I was going to feed my guy,” Burrow told me. “He was due for one. I knew he was going to have a big game. Just the way he was talking all week, he was excited to play this one. He showed up big for us. He showed why he’s one of the best.”
"Coming into this game I was going to feed my guy." Joe Burrow on Ja'Marr Chase, who caught 12 passes on 15 targets for 141 yards pic.twitter.com/tTMtNYVkJG
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) September 26, 2023
Watching Burrow in the first half, it certainly was fair to question the wisdom of letting him play. But as he always has, Burrow looking significantly more comfortable as the game went on. Part of that is his read and feel for the game. Part of that is Ja’Marr Chase.
“That’s how we’ve got to be — have each other’s backs,” Chase added. “I think that’s why our bond is so strong and our chemistry is so good. We just have to make sure we’re on the same page, and me being there for him at all moments is the reason why we’re so good.”
Monday night, Chase was more like 75 percent of the reason. Chase finished with 12 catches on 15 targets for 141 yards. The 12 catches is a career high and just one shy of the club mark held by Carl Pickens on Oct. 11, 1998 in a 25-20 Bengals win over the Steelers at Cinergy Field.
"All I can do is make Joe look good." Ja'Marr Chase on Joe Burrow Monday night. pic.twitter.com/W9dFI4CcUT
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) September 26, 2023
Chase was asked after if it’s going to be a while before Burrow is back to being himself with the calf injury.
“I think he already is him, and he proved it tonight, playing hurt,” Chase offered.
Logan Wilson, the man who gave Burrow two additional possessions with two picks, appreciates what it means for Burrow to be playing hurt and playing through pain.
“He understands the importance of it,” Wilson said. “That’s the type of guy that you want leading this team and this organization. That’s why they pay him the big bucks.”
Taylor was more than appreciative of Chase’s words and deeds Monday, as well as the defense coming up with six sacks and two interceptions from Wilson to pick up Burrow.
“There’s no doubt,” Taylor said. “That’s what this team is about. Joe’s toughness, we’re used to it, so you take it for granted at times. He’s played through a lot these four years. It’s appreciated when your quarterback goes out and is dealing with something and able to battle through it, throwing the ball 40-something times. He escaped a couple pressures and got the ball out, that was big time.”