INDIANAPOLIS _ In winning the AFC passing championship while setting all the Bengals' major single-season passing records and leading them to the Super Bowl, Joe Burrow had the best season a Bengals quarterback ever had.
So as offensive coordinator Brian Callahan envisioned Burrow's next step as he re-set Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine, he sees a rare moment when a third-year quarterback can call his own game for a stretch or two.
"Petty rare. Pretty rare. Not a lot of guys who have the ability to do it. And we trust him. That's the best part of it. I trust Joe with everything he sees and how he sees it during the course of a game of what he likes and doesn't like," Callahan said. "Whenever he checks, we're all for it. That's a fun thing about continuity for all of us being together as long as we have being able to trust our guys. Everyone is on the same page all the time and that's a lot of fun.
"Usually that's something (that happens) five, six years in, but I think we all know Joe is a whole lot different than a lot of people."
Callahan knows what he's looking at. He began last season going to Peyton Manning's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in Canton and ended it watching Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford beat the Bengals in the last 85 seconds of Super Bowl LVI. He coached both in Denver and Detroit, respectively.
The coaching continuity is just as rare as Burrow. Callahan and head coach Zac Taylor have been together all four of Taylor's seasons in Cincinnati while Burrow and quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher are heading into their third year together.
In the modern NFL, successful staffs just don't stay together like that and a trip into the hotel lobbies this week is a good reminder with the ubiquitous Bob LaMonte checking in with clients. LaMonte, the long-time agent who specializes in repping coaches, oversaw Taylor's five-year extension last month, a few weeks after Callahan got his first head coaching job interview in Denver.
So it sounds like one of the ways the Bengals can take advantage of what may be the last days of such coaching continuity is to unleash Burrow in certain spots. Enticing, given the wake of his late first half heroics during the AFC Divisional in Nashville when the headsets went out and Burrow had to call a string of plays just before the two-minute warning that set up a huge field goal in the 19-16 win.
Callahan doesn't know what a training camp drill would look like as they possibly toy with a package that would give Burrow, say, a two-minute drill on his own. But he likes the concept of challenging a guy quickly running out of challenges. Nothing wrong, Callahan says, with finding a bit of discomfort for a guy who always looks so comfortable.
"The next step is for Joe to take total command of the whole thing and he's well on his way to doing that," said Callahan, recalling Burrow's excitement at being on his own in Tennessee. "You want your quarterback to be an extension of the staff and to be able to go out there and call the plays and feel great about what he's doing. Not that he calls every play, but that's part of the process. I think he's excited about having that kind of ownership and that kind of responsibility. You grow and build from there. The consistency over time is what you're really looking for and he's up to the challenge."
Expect to be looking at it for a long time.
"The biggest difference is between guys that flash and guys that are here for the long run," Callahan said. "I think Joe is here for the long run. He's going to be in that discussion for his entire career."
LAST CALL: Callahan has watched the Super Bowl just once. Maybe he rewound that last play of the game a few times. The fourth-and-one at midfield with 39 seconds left and wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, as he did all day, scalding the great Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey on a go ball. But Burrow unable to get it off as Rams tackle Aaron Donald wrapped him up to end the ride.
It will be recalled that Donald and Von Miller weren't on the stat sheet at halftime. But Callahan said the game turned when the Rams forced the Bengals front into one-on-one matchups in the second half on their way to a Super Bowl tying seven sacks.
Callahan took that last play all in. The Bengals trying to help left guard Quinton Spain with center Trey Hopkins. Tight end C.J. Uzomah in the flat and slot receiver Tyler Boyd on a quick slant and Chase getting free of Ramsey and just no time.
"Just enough to know what was there," said Callahan of how many times he played it back. "Prime example of a great player making a great play. Donald disrupted the whole thing. We were sliding to him. Trey was going there. He got on Quinton's edge fast. That's what he does. We were trying to get two guys on him at that point.
"They did a nice job in their coverage scheme. Joe tried the left side. We had a shot to maybe hit C.J. in the flat, but there wasn't much time. The other side, Ja'Marr was on a go route he won late in the down, but Joe was looking the other way to get the first down … Aaron Donald did his best to win that play from us. If we had a little more time, maybe the ball gets off to one of the guys in the pattern. That's just how it goes."
But, like Callahan says, a 23-20 game never comes down to one play and you can't dwell on it because here you are 17 days later talking to potential Opening Day linemen.
"This league comes at you fast," Callahan said.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Callahan was asked about 1,205-yard running back Joe Mixon not being in the game on those third-and-ones and fourth-and-ones on the first and last series of the Super Bowl and he said it stemmed from running back Samaje Perine settling into a rotation late in the year with the Bengals angling to keep Mixon fresh in a 17-game season while taking advantage of Perine's pass blocking and ability to average 4.6 yards per carry in his three Bengals seasons on 118 carries.
"You have to have a division of labor in that room," Callahan said of the running backs. "He can't play every snap.
"If we're going to take (Mixon) out on a down, I'd rather take him out on third because he's so good on first and second down. It's never going to be perfect, but there has to be a division of labor in the room." …
Callahan says he can see Burrow "messing," with his throwing mechanics like he did last offseason even though his change in footwork that resulted in more velocity was probably as much of a product of his ACL rehab: "A lot of quarterbacks do that. Looking for the one percent that makes them better." …
More continuity: Callahan doesn't know what's going on business-wise, but he's all for free agent Brandon Allen returning for a third straight season as Burrow's backup. In the recent past the Bengals had talked to guys like Mitchell Trubisky, but they really like how Allen not only executes the offense and plays in game, but also his relationship with Burrow.
"He's got a great relationship with Joe and that's important," Callahan said. "That's quite an important relationship. If you have a good one, it's a really positive thing. We like what Brandon brings to the room and the team." …
When Mixon threw a six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tee Higgins in the first half, it marked the first time since the "Philly Special," in February of 2018 that a non-quarterback threw a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. An Eagles assistant at the time, Press Taylor, was credited with pulling that play out of the archives. But Zac Taylor, Press' older brother, said this week he couldn't take credit it for this latest one.
"I just said the words," Zac Taylor said.
The elder Taylor got in some R&R in Florida after the Super Bowl and it continued just this week before he got to the combine. The morning he drove in, he beat Press in tennis. Press, a former Colts assistant, is moving this week to Jacksonville, where he's just been named new head coach Doug Pederson's offensive coordinator in a reunion of the Philly Special…