Maybe Ja’Marr Chase was right after all. He warned everyone on Aug. 30 about the pitfalls of a Joe Burrow return before he was fully healthy.
Burrow admitted immediately after the opening week loss in Cleveland that his calf was still sore but “good enough.” Then Burrow, after a rough first half, started to hit his stride in the third quarter, stringing plays together.
He evened moved around in the pocket and jumped out of the way of a rush.
“I felt really good about him. I felt like he had a great week of practice last week,” head coach Zac Taylor said. “He’s the only one that can answer on how he truly feels, but you got the sense that it was really good.”
But when he limped off the field Sunday after his second touchdown pass to Tee Higgins, his availability to the Bengals immediately became a huge question mark, along with the prospects of the Bengals even making the playoffs in this – the so-called “Super Bowl-or-bust” season.
Chase reminded everyone on Sunday that he didn’t want Burrow back until he was 100 percent, even if that meant getting him back in Week 5.
“Like I said at the beginning of the season, health is the biggest thing for our quarterback and for the team, period,” Chase said. “Stay healthy. We are playing a long season. It’s what this whole thing was about for us.”
Now, after losing a pair of games with Burrow, hindsight would tell the Burrow and the Bengals that he could’ve had another three to five weeks to heal the calf.
“I wish we would have did that from the jump. But, live and learn,” Chase lamented.
— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) September 18, 2023
Chase said in late August he was concerned that Burrow would push himself because he was “hard-headed” and ultra competitive.
“Hell yeah. That’s why I told him don’t come until Week 5. I don’t want you back until you know you’re ready. But like a same thing with me (last year with the hip), he didn’t tell me that,” Chase said at the time. But in my mind I said, ‘I’m going to be back when you want me to be there and be ready.’ I’m saying it’s just about being your healthiest.
“I asked him. He told me he feels good. That’s the good thing about it. But he’s hard-headed. He’s going to tell me anything to make me feel good. That’s why I don’t really ask him much about his health. I want him to be a little straight up. He’s straight up to me, but like if it’s me asking how you feeling he’s like, okay, I’m good and brush it off but that’s how he is. He’s a tough guy.”
Chase said on Aug. 30 that because of his very tight relationship with Burrow he can be straight up with his quarterback.
“I can tell him what I want to tell him. He knows where I’m coming from. It’s all for the better. It’s not me hurting him,” Chase said at the time. “I’m not trying to push it down. It’s just for the better for the both of us for the team, the organization and the rest of the guys.”
“He’s still sore,” Taylor said Monday. “He did it really on one of the last three plays of the game probably. So just sore. We haven’t done anything on the field yet.”
Taylor stressed that no timetable has been decided one way or another in terms of sitting Burrow out.
“First of all we have to hear what the doctors have to say before we start assume anything. Once we get that information, we have those (conversations), figure out what what we’re gonna do,” Taylor said.
So is Burrow’s Week 3 Monday night availability up in the air?
“It’s hard for me to say right now,” Taylor said, before indicating no regrets with the way the team allowed Burrow to play in the first two games.
Now, if Burrow is to play in Week 3, it will be against the best rushing defensive tackle of his generation in Aaron Donald. If he plays next Monday night, Burrow better be prepared to move around, even if Ted Karras says the offensive line needs to protect a more immobile Burrow at all costs.
“I thought we handled it well,” Taylor said.
Nick Scott went into concussion protocol following a hit over the middle on Ravens tight end Mark Andrews in the fourth quarter Sunday. It was his second trip to the blue tent of the game.
“He’ll go day to day through the protocol. Still sore I think. Pretty sore,” Taylor said.
The Bengals through two games have struggled against two of the best rushing teams in football. In Week 1, they allowed 206 yards on 41 carries to the Browns, including 105 yards to Nick Chubb. On Sunday, thanks in part to the uniquely gifted Lamar Jackson (55 yards on 11 carries), the Ravens totaled 197 yards on 38 carries.
“It’s two of the teams that have had more success rushing the football than any team in this league the last three or four years,” Taylor said. “We got them the first two weeks of the season. We haven’t played with a lead and that’s complementary football. That’s the offense not doing a good enough job to get points on the board in the first two drives to take that pressure off the defense and teams aren’t playing with a 10-point lead. Two great rushing teams that can then lean on the run. There’s no overreaction from me in terms of assessing our rush defense. When you look there is a lot of really good stuff there. If we could play with the lead, which we plan on doing, then it really limits the other teams’ ability to lean on the run like they have been.”
For the second straight season, the Bengals will have their character tested in a Week 3 home game. Last year, the Bengals survived at MetLife Stadium and beat the Jets. Four days later, they were 2-2.
“Our character is strong enough to pull us through situations like this and we’ve got 15 games left,” Taylor said. “That’s the beauty of this league. We’ve been in this hole before. We know how to dig ourselves out of it. We’ve been 0-2 in the division before. We’ve been 0-3 in the division before. Those who have put in the work and have the confidence for how we go about our business, no, it’s the others that maybe don’t see it the way we do is where you’re going to deal with issues. I think our guys have great resolve and look forward to bouncing back this week.”
Zac Taylor continues to stand by tight end Irv Smith Jr. after two games where it’s been a challenge to integrate his production into the offense. Sunday he had two catches on four targets for just 10 yards. In Cleveland, he had three catches on five targets for 17 yards, including a season-long 8-yard reception.
“Irv’s a really smart player and it’s really important to him. He’s probably a centimeter away on that first third down of the game to really hitting a big play and getting things rolling,” Taylor said. “He’s always where he needs to be. I thought Kyle Hamilton did a good job on the Cover 0 coming up and making the tackle. Irv didn’t really have a chance to get out of it. He did a great job on the response there to the look and Joe put it right where it needed to be. Aside from that we called some other plays they took him away where he was No. 1 in the read and it just wasn’t there and we moved on in the progression. It’s through two games, so you don’t really want to assess targets and catches and all that stuff, but Irv is going to give us what we need over the course of the season.”
One of the bright offensive spots in the first two weeks has been the solid start by Joe Mixon. In Cleveland, he had three catches on five targets for 17 yards to go with 56 yards on 13 carries. Sunday, he had 13 more carries for 59 yards and four catches on five targets for 36 yards.
“I think Mixon has played really well through two games,” Taylor said. “I notice for certain the yards after contact and at lot of that is a credit to the offensive line getting movement initially, so sometimes the yards after contact is just an arm and Mixon’s able to take that arm and drag another couple of (defenders) 4, 5, 6 yards down the field. I think up front those guys have done a really good job and I think that Mixon has done a really good job hitting it where it needs to hit and getting yards after contact and running with a full head of steam and making guys pay when they try to take him down. Unfortunately we’ve down 10-plus points in both of the games we played and so it becomes a different style of game. Really, really pleased with where he’s been for us.”