Skip to main content

Quick Hits: Reader Lost For Season But Still 'Such A Big Part Of Us'; Ja'Marr Chase Day-To-Day;  Sixth Seed For Now; Zac Taylor Salutes Bengals Fans: 'No One Left';   

CB Mike Hilton celebrates during the Vikings-Bengals game in Week 15 of the 2023 season on December 16 at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.
CB Mike Hilton celebrates during the Vikings-Bengals game in Week 15 of the 2023 season on December 16 at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor confirmed Sunday what everyone knew Saturday when Pro Bowl-worthy nose tackle DJ Reader was carted off the field at Paycor Stadium after the Bengals' second defensive snap of a long day that culminated in a 27-24 overtime win over the Vikings.

Their leader on defense and one of their captains is out for the year with what is believed to be torn quadricep tendon. Not the one he tore when he missed the final 11 games of his first Bengals season, but just as devastating because since he arrived in 2020 as one of their biggest free-agent signings he's meant so much to Taylor's carefully designed locker room culture.

Taylor wasn't as definitive on Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, but he did confirm he left soon after his huge 24-yard catch on third-and-21 with an AC joint sprain in his shoulder. He left it as "day-to-day."

"It's unfortunate for DJ, unfortunate for all of us because he's such a big part of all of us. It's a killer to see something like that happen to him," Taylor said. "Every step of the way he's represented everything that we talk about in the locker room, everything we talk about on the field, everything we talk about at practice, the way you conduct yourself, he's represented everything and then that's why he's elected captain and he's earned all of that and he's been invaluable in his time here."

The Bengals have been here before, but they've never battled the running game without Reader in a playoff run. Last season he missed the six games from weeks four to nine with a knee injury and while the Bengals went 4-2, they allowed 4.6 yards per carry and 135 yards per game. In the ten games with Reader, they went 8-2 while allowing 3.9 yards per carry and 89.5 yards per game.

Even with Reader this season, the Bengals' rush defense has been up and down, allowing 4.7 yards per rush and 128 yards per game. It will be the same guys looking to step up last season, much like Zach Carter did on third- and fourth-and inches in Saturday's OT.

Josh Tupou is in his sixth season with the Bengals and has been viewed as a solid run player backing up Reader. He played a season-high 38 snaps Saturday while Carter, last year's third-round pick, had a season-high 43. Both were in the 60% range after Carter has been playing 44% and Tupou 24. Jay Tufele, inactive for the past four games, played well last season when Reader went down and figures to get the call in Pittsburgh Saturday.

MORE INJURIES: As expected, rookie cornerback DJ Ivey, the seventh-round pick, has been ruled out for the year with a torn ACL, an injury overshadowed by what happened to Reader. But it's a significant blow to special teams and the secondary, where his 4.3 speed and maturity had been beginning to emerge. He got hurt in his role covering punts as a gunner, but cornerbacks coach Charles Burks began considering him a back-pocket option as the season wore on.

Chase missed time last year with a hip injury and in the four games he was out, they went 3-1 and wide receiver Tee Higgins came up big in wins in Pittsburgh (nine catches for 148) in Tennessee. And those were two games running back Joe Mixon was inactive.

Now they're back in Pittsburgh without Reader, Joe Burrow, and maybe Chase, but Taylor has been there before. Burrow is certainly there in spirit.

"Burrow was on the headset yesterday talking, I was texting with him last night and he said, I just never know how much to say,'" Taylor said, "and I said, 'I'll tell you when to shut up, trust me.' I am not scared to tell people to shut up on the headset. But guys like that are invaluable to be on the sidelines. They see it from a different lens than we do."

PLAYOFF WATCH: No matter what happened Sunday, the Bengals remained in the playoffs as the sixth seed and according to The New York Times, raised their playoff chances from 25 to 36% with the win over the Vikings, meaning the three-game winning streak has taken them from 2%.

Even though the NFC Bears and Cowboys offered no help Sunday, when the Bears blew a 17-7 lead in the fourth quarter in Cleveland and Dallas got run over in Buffalo as the Bengals try to get their 3-6 AFC record back in the mix when it comes to tiebreakers.

Taylor says he's not paying attention.

"I just know if we could just continue to win, I think we're in good shape, so just win and that way you don't have to worry about what's going on with other teams," Taylor said. "We're just in a position where we just control, we can control and take a week to week."

But he's paying attention to the pounding his team is taking. His team has won three games in 12 days, a mere month after going 1-2 in an 11-day stretch and the Oct. 22 bye long gone. He says that made Sunday like a bye since they have a normal seven days to prepare for the first time in three weeks.

"You do feel that. Especially kicking off with a late Monday night arrival Monday night," said Taylor of the Dec. 4 win in Jacksonville that began the run. "You feel that on a Friday. You feel that a couple of days later and I thought our Thursday and Friday practices were tremendous. The energy's great and that makes me feel a lot better about guys handling those weeks.

"We didn't talk a lot about that as a team. I didn't really want to bring it to their attention how short the windows were for the games. I think that's one of the things that's just better left unsaid sometimes and our guys were able to persevere through it and play pretty good football."

Just another reason he gave them Sunday and Monday off before beginning preparations Tuesday for Saturday's game in Pittsburgh.

Here's one sneak peek with Browns quarterback Joe Flacco leading that fourth-quarter comeback. He brings the Browns into Paycor for the regular-season finale and you know that's going to be an all-the-marbles game.

When he was with the Ravens, Flacco was 3-7 at Paycor with eight touchdown passes, 15 interceptions and a 64.1 passer rating.

This is the most condensed three-game winning streak the Bengals have had in 17 years, when they had three from Nov. 19-30. It started with a win in New Orleans, when the Bengals staved off Drew Brees' 510 yards and wide receiver Chad Johnson went for 190 to set the NFL record for most yards in back-to-back games.

OT THOUGHTS: When the Bengals tied the game at 24 with 39 seconds left on Tee Higgins' hellacious 21-yard catch, Taylor didn't hesitate to kick the extra point and go  extra time.

"I felt good about where we were at, the momentum when you can view the momentum two ways, but it just felt like we were starting to move the ball," Taylor said. "It felt like our defense was going to make some stops and so it felt comfortable kicking it, tying it, maybe even getting the ball back. We had three timeouts, maybe even getting the ball if you can find a way to get a good return. I know the return was a little goofy there, but maybe getting in field-goal range. It felt like we were going to get an opportunity to get the ball back and maybe kick the field goal there at the end."

NO ONE LEFT: Two days before Saturday's game, Taylor asked the fans to have one final drink before coming into Paycor raising the din. They answered the call with a crowd of 66,376, nearly wedging into the all-time top five Paycor crowds while observers on the field said the noise was similar to the last two playoff games.

"We called on the crowd to come up big and you really felt that in the fourth quarter and in overtime. It was loud early in the game, but it was certainly loudest in the fourth quarter and  overtime and you're down 14 points and I don't think anybody left," Taylor said. "It looked like it was still jam-packed in there and the people believed that we were going to be able to come back and kept supporting us through the bitter end.

"That matters to us. We felt that energy, that crowd noise does affect them when they're in the huddle, particularly at the end of the fourth quarter. They had a chance there if they could have gotten a drive and kicked a field goal, they potentially win the game and they couldn't. They took a false start, and they just couldn't really get it because the crowd noise was just so good. So that was a big-time organizational win there."

Related Content