After a sluggish September, the Bengals offense and defense rolls into November with a three-game winning streak. Their most consistent phase of the season, a top ten special teams unit, preps for Sunday night's game (8:20-Cincinnati's Channel 5) at Paycor Stadium looking at their teeming depth to offset the season-long loss of their most productive player.
Hard-luck safety Tycen Anderson is tied for the NFL's most special teams tackles with eight as a gunner covering punts, among other things, in what amounts to his rookie season as a core player. He apparently played the last quarter of last Sunday's win in San Francisco with a torn ACL after missing all last season with a hamstring injury.
"He had emerged on the scene pretty quickly. A big guy that can run fast," said special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons after Friday's practice in the IEL Indoor Facility. "One guy won't replace him, but we've got a plethora of guys that can fill certain roles."
Simmons, in his 21st season running the Bengals kicking game as the NFL's longest tenured teams coach, has been eying the 6-2, 209-pound Anderson as the keeper of the flame. If he stays healthy with that sub 4.4-second 40-yard dash speed, Simmons say he can be in the class of other recent Bengals kicking game standouts, such as Pro Bowler Cedric Peerman, a running back, as well as running back Rex Burkhead, and safety Clayton Fejedelem.
"He had been coming on as the next one," Simmons says.
Anderson, a 2021 fifth-round pick out of Toledo, had been emblematic of a young group that has jelled quickly with rookie punter Brad Robbins, second-year long-snapper Cal Adomitis, rookie punt returner Charlie Jones and his 81-yard touchdown, rookie wide receiver Andrei Iosivas holding down the gunner spot opposite Anderson, and rookie running back Chase Brown leading the Bengals to a No. 8 overall statistical ranking.
Despite losing one of last year's core players and leading tacklers in linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither (knee) early in the season and watching Jones (thumb) and Brown (hamstring) land on injured reserve, the Bengals are third and fifth returning punts and kicks, respectively, and fourth in covering kicks. They are also fifth in drive starts after both receiving and covering kickoffs.
"We've had our share of plays we'd like to have back, but we've been efficient," Simmons said. "What I'm proud of is we've had multiple guys step up and play multiple roles. Think of who we've lost and we haven't missed a beat."
And everybody but Anderson comes back soon. Taylor says Davis-Gaither is trending upward when playing Sunday after missing the last four games and returning to practice in limited form this week. Jones, who led the NFL in punt returns for a while, figures to return next week. Brown is eligible to come back after the Nov. 16 game in Baltimore.
PERFECT CALL: The Sunday Night Football broadcasting crew is in town for the first time since Paycor imploded with Moeller High Schooler Sam Hubbard's 98-yard Rumble in The Jungle fumble return for a touchdown while NBC's Mike Tirico purred history with his iconic "The Cincinnati Kid," call.
The play won last season's AFC Wild Card Game against the Ravens for the Bengals, as well as a spot for Tirico in his alma mater of Syracuse's textbook for broadcasting big sports moments.
No. 1 lesson?
The best calls are ad-libbed and not a rehearsed, canned script.
The moment was even more special for Bengaldom with former Bengals Pro Bowler and adopted Cincinnatian Cris Collinsworth next to Tirico in the booth. And Collinsworth could have won another Emmy saying nothing.
"You know how good of a call that was?" asked Collinsworth Friday after his production meetings with various Bengals players and coaches. "I didn't say a word."
Collinsworth, one of five Bengals who played in both Super Bowls in the '80s, knows a big moment. On Friday he nodded at his long-time director Drew Esocoff.
"That guy is the best in the business," Collinsworth said. "I thought Mike completely nailed the call. It was exciting. It was timely. He was throwing in tidbits about the player involved. Hubbard. The whole thing. When magic happens in a broadcast, the one thing that can really screw it up is too much talk. I knew if I let Drew cut to the pictures and the crowd shots, it could be a really, really memorable thing. One of the few sort of perfect calls I think I've been associated with."
It was also a big moment for Bengals radio play-by-play voice Dan Hoard, in his usual perch with analyst Dave Lapham and pregame and postgame host Wayne Box Miller. Hoard was three years ahead of Tirico at the 'Cuse, where he was assigned to be his mentor and they've remained close.
Hoard taught him well.
"Sometimes you get lucky," Tirico says. "Because the Ravens were going quick on the ball, I was on the play. I wasn't behind, so I got lucky there. Second, given the angle of the play, and where Hubbard came from, it was on a diagonal line with our booth. So I could see No. 94 really easily. You're not searching for the ball."
Tirico says a big chunk of the credit goes to the researchers' prep notes. The researchers talk to everyone and this time they talked to Doug Rosfeld, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's assistant and one of Hubbard's teachers at Moeller.
Another stroke of luck, Tirico says. He and Collinsworth had worked the 2021 Wild Card Game in the same spot where the Bengals beat the Raiders, and Tirico had immersed himself in the history of both franchises.
"I remember thinking, 'Here's a kid who gets it. He's a Cincinnati kid. He's Moeller and Ohio State and the whole deal. If they get a win, it would mean the most to him, right?" Tirico says.
"That was engrained in my mind. When he got the ball and it was happening, all I could think of was, 'Oh my gosh, it's a local kid making the all-time great play here. And you just blurt it out."
If blurt means gold as in "The Cincinnati Kid has a convoy," well, yeah."
Hubbard himself is a big fan of the call, as he told Bengals.com back in the spring.
"I've heard it 100 times. I love it," Hubbard said. ""Fantastic. Great job by him being aware and ready for the moment by his research. (The production crew) talked to Doug about my Moeller history and I guess that's where 'The Cincinnati Kid,' came from."
You've got to be good to be lucky. As always, let Tirico put a bow on it.
"It was not on my chart. It was not pre-planned. It popped into my head at the moment," Tirico says. "The best ones. You can sit around and write a line, but when it just comes to you (fingers snapping), the best.
"Long live The Cincinnati Kid."
SLANTS ASND SCREENS: Although running back Joe Mixon (chest) is listed as questionable, Taylor said he'd play after he went full go Friday …
Same with Pro Bowl sacker Trey Hendrickson (foot), not listed as questionable after going full Friday …
Back-up center Max Scharping (knee) surfaced on Friday's injury report and is listed as questionable …
Bills safety Damar Hamlin (illness), who has played in one game this year, went full the last two days after not practicing Wednesday …
The Bills' Josh Allen is one of the greatest running quarterbacks in NFL history, but Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow showed the damage he can also do when he romped for 43 yards on six carries last Sunday against the 49ers.
"The plays he made with his feet energized our team and was a gut punch for your team," Taylor said after Friday's practice. "You might have everything wired, but with our wide receivers, you have to play some man to take them away and you don't account for him. That means he's a problem. That's good." …
Taylor also thought offensive coordinator Brian Callahan's tough love address before the bye helped contribute to the crispness of Frisco.
"Brian really challenged them during the bye week that we needed to step it up a notch," Taylor said. "We'd been lacking in a couple of drives where just one play, one detail derails a drive, and the guys took it to heart. I thought they did a good job executing every drive last week." ….