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Bengals Notebook: Scouting Higgins To A Tee; Bates Likes How Bengals Didn't "Check Out"; Mixon Steps Into 2021

Tee Higgins' favorite Tee Higgins catch: Sunday's 20-yard TD.
Tee Higgins' favorite Tee Higgins catch: Sunday's 20-yard TD.

Here is why some numbers matter and many more don't.

Take Bengals rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins.

Higgins is one catch away from one of Bengaldom's Holy Grails, as well as 92 yards away from walking the A.J. Green 1,000-yard red carpet and after 15 NFL games head coach Zac Taylor still can't believe he got out of the first round in last April's draft.

"He's made plays against everybody in this league," Taylor said after Sunday's 37-31 victory in Houston. "He's got an extremely bright future. His approach is tremendous. Where we got him when we got him in the second round is unbelievable now that you look back on it, but we're lucky to have him."

The way offensive coordinator Brian Callahan remembered it, "We thought he was going to be a really good player for somebody. We didn't necessarily know it was going to be us. And we get fortunate enough to have him be a part of our team."

As he prepped for the Ravens Monday night, receivers coach Bob Bicknell was thinking about how he thought the same thing at the end of the first round that Thursday night of the draft. The Bengals would have 24 hours to think about it, but they were all over the idea of getting a first-round receiver for Joe Burrow because there he was with the first pick in the second round.

Clemson wide receiver Tamaurice William Higgins.

"I was shocked," Bicknell said. "It was a no brainer."

The scouts also had high marks on Higgins and Bicknell had been sold after Higgins' pro day in early March, thought to be the last pro day in the country before the pandemic shut them down. Taylor was also there, as was Bengals director of college scouting Mike Potts. Bicknell recalls only one other receivers coach was there because he and Colts assistant Mike Groh ran the workout.

It has been reported by Pro Football Network that the Bills were so turned off by Higgins' workout that they decided not to take him at No. 22 in the first round and traded for Stefon Diggs instead:

"The 40-yard dash (4.5 seconds) is not too bad, but 1.66 10-yard split puts him in the bottom second percentile among wide receivers. The short shuttle puts him in the bottom fifth percentile among wide receivers. Meanwhile, the 31-inch vertical puts in the bottom seventh percentile among wide receivers."

(A 31-inch vertical? Did you see that skyscraper catch on the sidelines against Tennessee? Measure that.)

Bicknell and the Bengals saw those numbers, but they were watching his tape. Bicknell didn't show up with a stopwatch or a tape measure when he went in the night before the workout and spent some quality time with Higgins.

"After talking with him, you knew he had the right makeup and that's important," Bicknell said. "Then there was the workout and you knew exactly what he was and that's what he's been."

What Higgins has been is immense. He's 21 years old but plays like he's been around the league 21 years. His next catch, his 68th, gives him the franchise rookie record and breaks the mark of Bengals legend Cris Collinsworth set in the iconic first Super Bowl season of 1981. His 67 catches and 908 yards are third among rookie receivers, behind only first-rounders Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb. Those are the numbers that matter.

What he's also been is tenacious. He's got a competitive streak that boils in him. As Bicknell reviewed his two early drops in Houston, he wasn't too sure they were all his fault. One was a mis-timed screen and the other was a Brandon Allen fast ball that went through his hands, but, Bicknell noted, not before the ball was tipped imperceptibly.

That competitive streak turned into these numbers on Sunday: 99 yards on six catches, including an acrobatic 20-yard touchdown catch where he did his best A.J. Green dance to keep both feet in.

"The one screen I dropped. Brandon double clutched it. There was a flag anyway. But at the end of the day I should have caught the ball," Higgins said. "There was one I ran a slant. I'm not making an excuse. The DB was on top of me. I still should have caught the ball. Those types of plays tick me off. I'm a pro receiver. I probably needed to catch the ball. I just came back. I let it go and kept playing my game."

Callahan has been struck by the maturity of his game. There have been some big games against some experienced cornerbacks. It was that football player mindset that Bicknell sensed in that pre pro day meeting.

"He has been everything that we thought he would be as an NFL receiver. Because he has size. He has catch radius. He has speed and he has route running ability," said Callahan of other numbers. "His development has happened quick. He really came into the NFL prepared as far as playing the position. He kind of knew what it takes.

"He played a competitive, high level in college. He's only gotten better every time. He's learned to fine-tune his craft, too. These corners that you play against are good. And he's run some really good routes against some really good corners. That's an encouraging thing for a young player."

By the way, Higgins said Sunday's touchdown catch ranks as his top one of 2020. Why that and not the leaping catch against the Titans?

"Because I scored," Higgins said.

Higgins doesn't know much about Collinsworth, but you've got to remember, 21 years ago Collinsworth had already won some Emmys for his work in the broadcast booth.

But he certainly knows about 1,000 yards. Only Collinsworth and Green have done that as Bengals rookies.

"Man, when my number is called hopefully I'll go out there and make a play on the ball and get to that 1,000 yards," Higgins said. "That would be a great goal. That's a goal I had. It will be a great accomplishment to be a rookie."

BATES EMBOLDENED: Free safety Jessie Bates III knows exactly what the last two wins meant and what one over Baltimore would mean. The Steelers and the Ravens are the AFC North gold standard.

"The thing that's very important is that we're playing very good football in December, which that'll come up within these next couple years," Bates said. "I think in December we're going to be playing for something. It'll be very important for us to put together a prime-time game on Monday night and then go on the road on a short week and get a road win. I know it's kind of weird that there was no fans there, so it's kind of weird, not like a road game, but we haven't had a lot of road games won the past three years, my first three years. So, it was really nice to kind of put these two wins together."

Bates vows that the defense will "rock it," in Sunday's finale and he likes what he's seeing in the effort across the locker room.

"It has been really cool to see how we all have come together in these last weeks," Bates said. "A lot of teams don't do this. A lot of teams you know, check out at this point, and we're not the team that's doing it, even though there may not be some guys here next year. But I'm sure they'll be playing on other football teams."

FAN CLUB: After his near-flawless 371-yard, 78-percent display in Houston, Allen is becoming a popular figure among his mates.

"I was very, very impressed, just how poised he always is throughout the locker room. I don't think I ever (saw) him say a word until he became the starting quarterback," Bates said. "So you know, I just kind of like the way he goes about his work, doesn't really say much, but you can count on him to make a play. He's very tough. I think he's playing with a hurt leg or something like that right now and he took a shot in the game yesterday, but he continues to fight and put his front foot forward, you know, always giving us an advantage to win a football game. So, I think he played very elite on that level."

But Higgins has noticed Allen is talking plenty to the offense.

"Brandon was locked in from the first snap. You could tell the way he was communicating with the guys in the middle of a play, on the sideline when the defense was on the field," Higgins said. "He was just being that vocal guy you want running the offense. He was just really confident in what he had to do in the game plan. That's what we want in a quarterback."

JOLTIN' JOE EYES' 21: Taylor said Monday what everyone knew. Running back Joe Mixon won't play in the finale, meaning his season ended with the foot injury he sustained in the sixth game on the carry before his last one, a seven-yard touchdown mush in which he dragged the Colts defense into the end zone.

Taylor had a news blackout on the injury, but he says they went slow with it because the foot is always dicey and they believe because of that Mixon will be as good as new and be ready in the spring.

"It's not always that cut and dry. You want to give him every opportunity. If he's able to play, let him play. If not, make sure he's fully healthy before he gets ready to play. It did us no advantage to rule him out for the season," Taylor said. "Give him every opportunity to continue to work through it and get healthy. At this point it is Week 17. He's done a great job. He's done everything that's been asked of him to try to get healthy, but now he'll be able to turn his focus to next season and make sure he's ready for the spring.

 "It's terrible for Joe. Anybody who knows him knows how much he's invested in this team. He just wants to help the team win. He's done everything he could. With a foot injury, you know want to make certain it's fully healed. We don't do anything to compromise that process. We look forward to getting him back in the fold this spring."

STEPPING OUT: Joe Burrow went viral tweeting the first steps of his recovery and that caught Higgins' eye.

"I got excited. I was ready for him to come back right then and there," Higgins said. "It's crazy to see that his progress is coming along good and I can't wait for him to get back here and get things started back up."

Callahan, who along with Taylor and quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher have seen more video of Burrow than anyone, had seen it all before in another form.

"Sounds like Joe. Looks like Joe," Callahan said Monday. "Everything he's done since he arrived here has been at an accelerated pace. It's no surprise to me. I know he's going to attack that just like he's attacked every minute that he's been here for the football portion. Joe is wired a particular way. That's kind of just how he lives his life. That doesn't surprise me one bit."