After Joe Burrow lit up the Chiefs two weeks ago as the Bengals clinched the AFC North title to secure a Paul Brown Stadium Wild Card Game, the Bengals lit up in the locker room with Drew Estate cigars donated by running back Joe Mixon.
"I just knew it would be a special day for us. I had to make sure we had them things ready to spark up and celebrate after a big win," Mixon said before Tuesday's practice. "I got a couple for everybody. It was a good day to celebrate."
Mixon is thinking about making a return trip to the Party Source in Newport, Ky., in case the Bengals beat the Raiders Saturday (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) in a re-match of the Nov. 21 game in Las Vegas that Mixon ruled with a career-high 30 carries for 123 yards, 19 and 97, respectively coming in the second half of the Bengals' 32-13 win.
After two losses and a bye at 5-4, that win basically turned the Bengals season and started a run of six playoffish games against AFC teams with similar records. They went 5-1 to get in as the team with the fewest playoff games on the roster in the 14-team field with 57, 17 shy of the 13th-place Cowboys.
But Burrow and Mixon insists it's a lot more than that if you count the stretch that began in Vegas.
"The last five or six games for us have been playoff games so we've gotten a lot of experience in those types of situations," Burrow said earlier this week.
With 1,519 yards, Mixon had the Bengals' most yards from scrimmage in 16 years and with 1,205 the most rushing yards in a dozen years. After what happened back in Vegas, when the Raiders took away Burrow's deep ball while holding him to a career-low 148 yards and Mixon going off, he must feel the eyes of the locker room. He was the key then, why not be the key now with the money on the line?
"It depends on the opportunity," Mixon said. "I feel like as long as we take care of business, take care of the little things, everyone in this offense should be able to eat."
But sensational rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr went on a little bit of a fast in Vegas. Chase did haul in Burrow's longest completion of the day, a 17-yarder.But according to Next Gen Stats, Chase had 537 yards and seven touchdowns on deep passes this season but had no deep balls on three deep targets in Vegas.
Burrow is coming off two passing games no quarterback has ever had before with 400 yards, four TD passes and no picks in each game, so Mixon has a pretty good idea what defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is going to do.
"He doesn't try to hide what he does. He doesn't do nothing pretty out there. He just lines up and play football," Mixon said. "What are you going to do? Like I said, they don't really try to hide and they don't really disguise too much. They'll probably disguise the blitz. But in terms of what they do, they're going to be them and they're going to play their style of football. They're pretty solid on what they do, man. At the end of the day, we've got to be ready for all unscouted looks …. But at the same time, like I said, we can't let them dictate what we want to do. We've just got to play our style of football."
But that's just it. What is their style of football? In Vegas they proved they could win without Burrow having a big day. The next week, Mixon had another career-high, this one with 165 yards on 28 carries. But since then, they've been pretty much riding Burrow. Mixon hasn't carried 20 times or rushed for more than 65 yards since Nov. 28 against Pittsburgh.
But he's confident they can revert to that style.
"It depends on how the game goes," Mixon said. "At the end of the day they're going to try and stop the run first and then figure out what to do with the pass. But at the same time I'm going to do what I can to have the coach keep dialing up some runs. It's on us. We have to figure out what to do."
He knows what to do if the Bengals get that long awaited postseason win Saturday.
"I'll probably talk it over with the guys and if they feel like it's one of those weeks, hey, I'm all for it, man," Mixon said.
WALLER BALL: Don't look now, but here comes another monstrous tight end. The Raiders' Darren Waller started the gauntlet on Nov. 21 with 116 yards on seven catches, including a 31-yarder that got them back in the game. But two weeks ago the Bengals held Chiefs future Hall-of-Famer Travis Kelce to 25 yards on five catches, so they know it can be done. In Vegas, six defensive backs and linebackers covered Waller at some point, according to Pro Football Focus. The web site had Bates giving up the long one to Waller, but he was immense against the Chiefs in an effort that included a game-saving zero blitz.
Back in Vegas, the 6-3 Flowers, a waiver claim from Seattle on Oct. 14, played just one snap. But an intriguing guy who has a little safety in him after starting 40 games for Seattle's perennial playoff defense at cornerback the last four seasons, played 13 snaps against the Chiefs. PFF had him in coverage on Kelce three times, one of four Bengals that covered him, holding him to two catches for seven yards and he also yanked away a third-and-nine from him.
Whoever is covering Waller Saturday, they'll have plenty of company.
"There's a lot stuff that we have, I feel like every week is something different with the game plan," Bates said. "Whether that's me guarding a tight end, Vonn (Bell) or Tre Flowers like you said. I think like I said it's good to have that depth to kind of tag team those guys that are pretty effective on all downs, not just first and second down … It's different situations, like I said where first and second down it could be different compared to third down. I think he's very effective on all downs so like I said we'll have a plan for him. "
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Before Wednesday's practice, Bates talked about how the free-agent imports have given the secondary a well-rounded and mature perspective. Such as Flowers, and starting cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie, Mike Hilton and Eli Apple, as well as Trae Waynes.
"Having those new guys come in and raise the standard, have their input into what the standard looks like has been amazing, honestly," Bates said. "It's good to hear from different perspectives, honestly. Whether it's Eli Apple, who got cut, or that's Vonn who had a successful career with New Orleans and then coming over. Hearing different perspectives is really good as you try and go through the league and win games.
"It's good to have some depth in that room. You got Trae Waynes who still hasn't really made it all the way back into everything but he is slowly. Being able to have that depth behind Chido, Eli and Trae is really cool. The main thing is the ego part of it. Trey Flowers started for three years in Seattle, made playoff games. For him to be able to just lock in, you know sometimes only on third down, says a lot to his character and how we're building the right people in the right players in this facility." …
Flowers played in four postseason games in Seattle as part of the 57 playoff games on the Bengals' roster. But they're not the youngest team in the playoffs. That distinction belongs to the Packers, average age 26 years, 69 days. The Bengals and the Steelers average the same at 26 years, 113 days, literally days older than the Packers, Chiefs (26 years 77 days) and Eagles (26 years, 82 days). The Raiders are one of the oldest at 27 years, 43 days …
But the Raiders don't have much more postseason experience than the Bengals with 76 games. The Cowboys have the second fewest with 74 …
How about this for a stat? Only Peyton Manning (145.8 in 2008) has a higher passer rating than Burrow in the final two games of the regular season prior to a playoff appearance …
Chase, the fifth pick in the draft, and the Eagles' DeVonta Smith, the 10th pick, are the eighth and ninth rookies to lead playoff teams in receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs. Prior to Chase and Smith, only three rookies in the Super Bowl era had done it and one of them was the Bengals' A.J. Green in 2011. The others were the Colts' Marvin Harrison in 1996 and the Titans' A.J. Brown in 2019 …
Raiders head coach Rich Bisaccia is tied with former Bengals head coach Bruce Coslet for the second most wins in history by an interim head coach with seven. They're tied with the Raiders' Art Shell in 1989. All three trail Don Coryell's eight with the 1978 Chargers. Bisaccia is the only one to reach the playoffs. But Coslet nearly did it in 1996 when he went 7-2 after replacing Dave Shula, finished 8-8 and missed the postseason by a game ….