On Bye Weekend, Bengals.com gives you the Hobson's Choice midseason awards in the middle of the first 17-game season.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: QB Joe Burrow
OK, let's not let the last game before the bye put any outrageous thoughts in our head. How good has Burrow been in his first 19 NFL starts?
_According to Elias, with 33 touchdown passes Burrow has thrown more than The Big Four the Bengals drafted in the 40 years between 1971 and 2011: Ken Anderson (11), Boomer Esiason (30), Carson Palmer (31) and Andy Dalton (26). Jeff Blake is the only who has him beat in Bengals annals with 34.
He's also thrown as many as Peyton Manning and more than Aaron Rodgers (32), Tom Brady (31) and Drew Brees (20).
_Everyone is talking about Burrow's interceptions. He leads the NFL this season with 11 and has 16 in his career, the same as Dalton, Deshaun Watson and Joe Montana had in their first 19 starts and fewer than Burrow's NFL Radio critic Rich Gannon (18), Brady (18), Andrew Luck (19), Palmer (20), Jim Kelly (20), Baker Mayfield (25) and Manning (33).
He's doing just fine.
_Burrow is the only Bengal to throw for more than 5,000 yards in his first 19 starts. Not only that, his 5,185 is the fifth most in the 51 years of the merger. His completion percentage is also the fifth best from 1970-2021 with 66.52. His passer rating of 95.1 is better than any Bengal as well as Rodgers (94.3), Cincinnati-bred Hall-of-Famer Roger Staubach (92.6), Brady (90.6), Kyler Murray (86.1), Montana (84.9), and Brett Favre (82.2).
So, the bye is just the time to sit back and savor the big picture. In a league that lives on the forward pass, those numbers compute to MVP on any team.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: RB Joe Mixon
Mixon has been grinding through it with his upbeat personality magnifying the good times and easing the bad times. There have been some ups (his 40-yard catch and touchdown run on fourth-and-one in Detroit) and some downs (struggles on the goal line in New York and in blitz pickup against Cleveland), but overall he's been that versatile weapon the Bengals thought he could be in the run and pass game when they gave him a $50-million extension last season.
He's fourth in the NFL in rushing on a pace for a career-high 1,200 yards and tied for eighth in yards from scrimmage. He's on pace for 1,568 scrimmage yards, the fourth best by a Bengals running back behind only James Brooks in 1986 (1,773), Corey Dillon in 2002 (1,609) and Dillon's iconic 2000 season in which 1,435 of his 1,593 yards came on the ground.
And he's done it taking over the mantle of "Captain," and been available for the microphones when it went great (the 150 combined yards in the opener) and not so great, such as when they left 11 points in the red zone during the 34-31 loss to the Jets. On and off the field, he hasn't backed down.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: DE Trey Hendrickson
Hendrickson, who became the Bengals richest free agent ever back in March on a four-year, $60 million deal, is exactly what they paid for and how often does that happen in any shopping spree? He's the face of a free-agent class that has done exactly that, ranging from cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton to right tackle Riley Reiff on the other side of the ball.
There are his 8.5 sacks (at least one in the last five straight games) and with 22 sacks in the 2020s, only T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett have more in the decade. Plus, the Bengals desperately needed a physical edge anchor opposite Sam Hubbard to toughen a defense that allowed the NFL's most rushing yards from 2018-2020 and he has been all of that.
(Remember, before Nick Chubb's 70-yarder the Bengals were a top ten rush defense. After the first seven games, the Bengals defense that had been near the bottom of the league stats was top five in scoring and top ten in total defense.)
And Hendrickson's ferocious motor has made as much of an impact as the sacks. Even his teammates get wary when Hendrickson "blacks out," and challenges foes and Bengals alike. But when he does it to a teammate, he apologizes.
Hendrickson has helped give the Bengals that badly needed edge along with other additions of the past two offseasons, such as his old teammate in New Orleans, strong safety Vonn Bell. Hendrickson's words from the week he signed have been felt.
"Vonn being here speaks volumes. He was a captain without the 'C.' He's a leader and a good dude. We have a great relationship. We talked about waiting for our opportunities," Hendrickson told Bengals.com back on March 17. "It sounds like both us are getting the dream we were talking about four years ago.
"Vonn and I are just hungry dogs ready to eat. In some ways we've just been sitting in the dark waiting for our chance to come into the light. A hungry dog eats."
It turns out in the first nine games, Hendrickson has helped shine the light on what they hope is the end of the tunnel.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: K Evan McPherson
Yes, the Bengals finally have that guy. A guy with a game-winning leg. McPherson, the only kicker drafted back in April, has already checked plenty of boxes in his first nine games.
- A 50-yarder. It came on his first NFL field-goal attempt, a 53-yarder.
- An overtime winner in his first NFL game.
- A last-snap winner in his first prime-time game.
- Back-to-back field goals at the end of the half in road wins over the Lions and Ravens.
- Tied for seventh with 32 touchbacks on his kickoffs, one more than the great Justin Tucker.
But his most impressive accomplishment has been what he's done after his lowest moment, missing two winners against Green Bay on a 57-yarder that hit the right upright at the end of regulation and an overtime 49-yarder that blew left at the last possible instant and brushed the flag.
In the 33 days since, McPherson has hit all six and that includes a 52-yarder, one of three 50s already to his credit.
"The thing that people have to remember is this guy should be a college senior right now. He's still a young guy. You don't see kickers come out that often," said Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons this week. "The way he bounced back after what happened in the Green Bay game, I think he's been spectacular.
"He's very confident. He's very mature beyond his years, which is something you've got to have from that position. You've got to have short-term memory. They know they're only as good as the last kick, and he put that Green Bay game behind him real quick."
Simmons, the NFL's longest-tenured kicking game coach, hasn't been prone to handing out compliments easily during his 19 seasons running the Bengals special teams. But McPherson has won him over with days like this past Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium against the Browns.
No late heroics. No long bombs. Just a 27-yarder and realization of what the tricky Ohio River wind was doing above Paul Brown Stadium, showing what he had learned since the Packers game.
"(The wind) started going toward the city, and it changed before kickoff a bit and Evan recognizes that, and he told me that had we kicked off, he thought we would kick off to the river," Simmons said, "and I think you saw the guy from Cleveland was supposed to hit it toward the city and hit it pretty short. That tells me he's getting experience.
"He's understanding the wind patterns, which is really half of his job, understanding wind pattern in each stadium we go to, so I think he's maturing. He is already mature but he's still maturing at a very rapid rate, which is very good for that position."
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: WR Ja'Marr Chase
The Bengals' first-round pick should be a lock for the Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year. Never mind that Patriots quarterback Mac Jones is making a run or that Chase is coming off two tough games in which he dropped a touchdown in both.
Forget all that. Not only did Chase shatter Randy Moss' record for most receiving yards in his first seven NFL games, in those seven games he was a huge factor getting the Bengals to 5-2. In four of those wins he had catches of at least 26 yards in the last minute of the half to set up points.
But, OK, the numbers. He's on pace to not only set the Bengals receiving record for yards by more than 100 with 1,577, but the NFL record his LSU buddy Justin Jefferson set last year with 1,400.
Mac can't do all that.
ASSISTANT COACH OF THE YEAR: DL Marion Hobby
Not because we wanted guy a named "Hobby," to win a Hobson's Choice award. But because in his first year with the club with basically three new starters up front (nose tackle D.J. Reader missed the last 11 games last season), Hobby has turned the line from beleaguered to estimable.
He's expertly juggled a rotation in which seven players have nearly 200 snaps, counting rookie end Cam Sample's 198. After finishing last in sacks with 17 last year, the Bengals head into the bye tied for fourth with 23 and, according to Pro Football Reference, tied for third with 99 pressures.
And his players have consistently graded out at the top of the Bengals defense, according to Pro Football Focus. For instance, in the win over the Ravens, the starting line of Hubbard, Hendrickson, Reader and Larry Ogunjobi were all in the top ten. In the other big division win in Pittsburgh, four linemen also were in the top ten, including backups Josh Tupou and Wyatt Ray.
Going into the Oct. 31 Jets game, the Bengals were ranked in the top ten against the rush, a total reversal of the three previous seasons. The hard-driving Hobby, a three-year vet of the early 1990s NFL, is going to be a key figure in their bid to get back on that track after the bye.
QUOTE OF THE YEAR: TE C.J. Uzomah
"Hey, I'm Joey Franchise. I just throw dots."
"I'm hype right now. 'Let's go.' He's just (staring) … He gives me a wink. I'm like, 'What the heck is going on right now?"
The words were uttered in the postgame jubilation following the 24-21 Thursday night win over the Jaguars when the media asked Uzomah to do his Joe Burrow imitation.
Uzomah was the go-to-guy on more than one occasion that night. He's the man that broke open a 21-21 game with a minute left when he took a jail-break screen for 25 yards off Burrow's audible against an all-out blitz.
He's been Joey Franchise ever since.