Sunday in Pittsburgh Ja’Marr Chase tweets from home about bad calls, Joe Mixon in the locker room with a concussion, his defenders failed the first half, TJ Watt committing superhuman interceptions, low temperatures and Steelers the defenses in frightening full health, all eyes turned to Burrow.
None of this mattered. None of this bothered him.
When you have this dude, you always have a chance.
If there’s one overwhelming reminder of the AFC entering Acrisure Stadium, it’s that Burrow’s play at this level could be more than enough. No matter what.
“Despite the fact that the guys were absent,” Tyler Boyd he began before a smile appeared on his face and his voice rose. We have Joe Barrow!
They made him play as well as at any other point in his career. The Bengals scored 30-plus points for the fourth time in five games. They average 3.02 points per trip, easily leading the rankings. NFL. Burrow is averaging 315 yards per game with a 116.6 passer rating and 16 touchdowns against three picks.
Sunday’s version meant three touchdown passes to the back-up running back. Samae Crotch and the first career touchdown to boost the training squad Trenton Irvine. Ty Higgins climbed into top-tier wide receiver needed in Chase’s place, and Burrow ran two 90-odd yards without an undercut to put a cold night on the ice.
This was not an ordinary victory. Burrow knew this. Not in these circumstances. Not at this point in the season. Apart from what went wrong in this division. The momentum gained and the experience on the way to 6-4 drew eloquent commentary.
“This is one of my favorite wins since I’ve been here,” Barrow said. “We just went through a lot of hardships. We found a way to win. It was amazing.”
The press conference version matches the hot mic version caught on TV from Burrow: “We’re big dogs!”
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) November 21, 2022
The aura and bravado of this Bengali team is blooming. Burrow is starting to show it more because he knows it.
“I think we’re playing as well as everyone else,” he said. “Except for that game on Monday night, we had almost no light.”
Boyd shrugged and smiled again, pointing out all they could do without Chase and expecting him to be back soon. Everyone feeds on what Burrow makes, from the most profitable to the training team.
“Joe Burrow will put us in win conditions,” Boyd said. “As long as you have it, you never feel like you have to go out there and do too much.”
Now the difficulty level is increased. They will have to face a hectic schedule, including some of the league’s top defensemen and some of the league’s top quarterbacks. But make no mistake, after two intermittently risky months, the Bengals look ready and the whole locker room knows it.
“This team is in a really good position,” Taylor said.
They definitely are. They have Burrow at his best.
Defense Communication Issues
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo noted that last week’s Wednesday and Thursday practices were among the best of his time in Cincinnati. He specifically called communication one of the most impressive aspects of what happened.
In the first half, most of them remained on the training field.
The minor Bengals player looked lost, behind or confused at several critical moments as a quarterback. Kenny Pickett and the Steelers’ previously lifeless offense capitalized on every miss.
Pittsburgh went eight games in a row without scoring more than 20 points, but scored 20 points at halftime. They didn’t score a touchdown more than 10 yards all season, and Sunday had two.
Jesse Bates and that is an apple communicated until the third and eighth in the second quarter, and both of them walked the route inside, while George Pickens freely ran to the pylon. By the time Apple adjusted, it was too late and Pickens entered the end zone to perform Griddy.
Bates said they were alone, and the late communication didn’t lead to a dip in coverage, but it was still a noticeable glitch.
Even in a play that didn’t end with a big game, there was more confusion. Pickens was all alone in the end zone in a game in which Pickett dropped him and Pickens went down (there was also a tackle). But immediately after the incompleteness, Bates turned to Cam Taylor-Britt for a confrontational conversation.
There was no one at home on the edge during several outside runs, Pickett’s first keeper on the third down to keep going and the second when Naji Harris dispersed outside before jumping over Bates at the pylon.
“We gave them everything in the first half by making mistakes. Sam Hubbard said.
Air Naji is back in the end zone ✈️
— ESPN Fantasy Sports (@ESPNFantasy) November 20, 2022
loss from Chidobe Awuzi in the corner continues to loom due to what he does physically and the ability of the secondary player to avoid bad games that just weren’t part of their DNA for the previous year and a half.
These issues are serious enough against rookie quarterback Pickett and the largely inept offense of the Steelers. How will they look in the background? Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Deshawn Watson, Lamar Jackson as well as Tom Brady?
“It’s a big deal,” Bates said. “Just keep connecting and finding chemistry together. Make sure we see things through the same lens. It’s not that people are wrong or right, just looking at some things through the same lens is very important when you’re playing with newbies.”
Closing the tie and going off the field on the third down—the Steelers converted only three of the 10 who converted third after the break—created a defensive effort that had been anticipated from the start.
The return to the track after the break, along with the continued explosive attack, was enough to fill up the shortcomings, but they are noted in the future.
“It’s complementary football,” Hubbard said. “Sometimes the defense won’t have our best football and that was today.”
We need to talk more about Evan McPherson’s 54-yard field goal. When Burrow fell from the bag on third down at the edge of the field goal zone, it was worth wondering if coach Zach Taylor would still send his star kicker there.
The conditions were cruel. Due to the temperature of 20 degrees, the ball did not fly at all. Almost every kick-off didn’t make it to the end zone. The field was in ruins. It was reloaded and players were slipping on replay. He was in his first game with a new holder Drew Crisman. Shooting from 54 yards is already a big success. He then had to do so as he was in one of the first mini-slumps of his career with a one-point lead in the second half of a huge division game.
He held it straight down the middle.
“Those conditions were not very good,” Taylor said with a knowing laugh. “The field is not very good. He just walked up and performed.”
This is the most impressive blow of McPherson’s career. And that’s saying something. Of course, some might mean more. Scoring 52 points to qualify for the AFC Championship and lining up to send the Bengals to the Super Bowl meant everything.
But the overall degree of difficulty? That was it.
The nature of the victory mattered
Bates spoke to his teammates on Saturday night and gave a clear message. The playoffs are starting now. The type of games that this team will play in will be different. He needed them to be mentally prepared.
To win by finishing the physical division away, as they did on Sunday, was impressive.
“It’s a huge deal,” Bates said. “Yesterday I was able to talk to the defense, our conversation before the game, I was able to talk to them about how things are going to be. These will be playoff games. It was a playoff atmosphere, a playoff type game where we didn’t break up until the fourth quarter. They are huge in playoff games.”
Boyd pointed out bluntly that after starting 0-3, the division finally had a slash in the win column. Bengals are still only a game back crows and watch games against Baltimore and cleveland heaping on it as the center point of the second half.
“These two games will get us where we want to go,” Boyd said.
In an AFC filled with amazing results, including Ravens fighting to the end to take down Caroline – The Bengals get positive emotions not only from the result, but also from the nature of the victory.
“I think we played some good football today,” Taylor said. “You know, it’s not perfect. But I thought we did really well with the conditions. We were mentally prepared for this. We were ready for what was thrown at us … I am very pleased with today. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be happy with next Sunday. We have seven days of work to put in to play really well. Tennessee Titans team on the road. And it will probably be a similar style in terms of fitness that we’re facing today.”
A trip to Nashville is planned and this season will end with games against five of the top six players in the conference. The only team with a losing record is Cleveland, who will add Watson and have already beaten Cincinnati on Halloween.
“It’s a really scary period, but we’re doing it week after week,” Hubbard said. “They will all be like that. There were seven left and we needed to get this one and make them important.”
(Top photo: Charles Leclerc/USA Today)