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How Fun Was That? Burrow, Bengals Grab AFC North By Scruff Of the Neck After Putting Another 41 Points On Ravens

The Ravens surrounded Tee Higgins, but didn't stop him.
The Ravens surrounded Tee Higgins, but didn't stop him.

How fun was that?

The Bengals winning another division game scoring 41 points for the third time this year?

Or how about quarterback Joe Burrow burnishing the Seamless Joe Legend (if he comes, they will build it) with a number never reached by Tommie or Peyton and complete with a Jordanesque shrug?

With Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale not picking one particular poison and opting to try all sorts of potions for his undermanned secondary, Burrow sifted the gaping zones for the first 500-yard game in Bengals history. He did it with a searing 80.4 completion percentage making him the first Cincy quarterback to hit 80 percent throwing more than 40 passes in a game. The 37 of 46 poison dart fest included a career-high four touchdown passes to give him 30 touchdowns on the year and four away from the Bengals record.

"Man, it's amazing. When he's on fire like that all your job is to do is get open and he's going to find you," said wide receiver Tee Higgins, who was found a career-high 12 times for a career-best 194 yards like a man among kids in jump ball after jump ball. "They played a lot more zone this game and we were able to exploit those voids and get open in those open zones."

How fun was that?

A packed Paul Brown Stadium hoarse with an AFC North title just a win away, now, as running back Joe Mixon quietly put himself on pace to set the Bengals record for most yards from scrimmage in a season while the greatest Christmas gift the Bengals ever got in free agency just kept on giving when Trey Hendrickson passed Carlos Dunlap with sack No. 14.

"I feel like just with the chemistry that we have in this locker room, offensively, defensively and on special teams wise, this is the best thing I've ever seen since I've been here," Mixon said. "You know, just say for instance, in Christmas, the guys coming through handing out gifts and doing certain things like that, man, taking care of the offense, taking care of the defense, even special teams, that was a great thing to see. You know, I'm forever thankful to be around these guys. They put a lot of work in and we just got to keep on building and getting better and building that chemistry."

Mixon got everyone on the offense an XBox and PS5s and then the Bengals went out and put up video game numbers.

And how revealing was it that nearly a year to the day the Ravens chased the Bengals out of this place with 404 yards rushing, the Bengals put up their fifth most yards of all-time when head coach Zac Taylor refused to take his foot off the gas even up 20 points with two minutes left?

How fun was that?

Taylor and his players know how hard this climb to 9-6 has been. He didn't want to hear about all of Baltimore's injuries and COVID problems. Not after the Ravens beat them here in last year's finale, 38-3, without Burrow, Mixon, Higgins, D.J. Reader, Geno Atkins and Logan Wilson and others.

"Why not? Mixon asked. "Over these past few years people been doing that to us. At the same time that's a great feeling that's roles are reversed now. We got to keep on building."

Judging by the post-game questions the Ravens fielded, the Baltimore sporting press believes head coach John Harbaugh and his players should be mad that the Bengals threw late enough that Burrow broke the 500-yard mark on a 52-yard heave to Mixon racing down the sideline against Baltimore's practice squad secondary on the first play after the two-minute warning.

But they don't get it. The Bengals have been run over in the division ever since Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball. (Exhibit A is last year when Martindale complained about the Bengals breaking his 27-0 shutout on a last-minute field goal.)

Taylor saw the Packers win by just one last week over a Ravens team that didn't stop.

"I'll be honest with you, with five minutes left, and I saw it with Green Bay last week, and they punted twice — the first possession and the last possession — that was it," Taylor said. "And so they probably felt like they played really productive offensive football. I mean they punted twice, and they almost lost the game. Anything could happen, and we were going to go take this game like we said in the locker room before the game."

If Harbaugh had guys like Ray Lewis with a nasty streak longer than the 15 years he played and if the Steelers have had Ben Roethlisberger always crawling out of the crypt, well, now the Bengals have Burrow.

"Our guys need to develop a killer instinct right now," Taylor said. "Now's the time that we have to be playing our best football. Baltimore's been in this position before, and they never quit. You can start doing some of those things where all the sudden they score, and it's a one possession game, and you have to start throwing again. We saw that too much on tape from them to be able to get back in the game, so that's why we did what we did."

In Baltimore back in October, when the Bengals went up 41-17, Taylor took out Burrow with 6:15 left in the game. Not this time. Remember what happened the next week? Not after the Ravens cut it to 13 points on the first play of the fourth quarter. Remember what a backup quarterback did to the Bengals when they had an 11-point lead with seven minutes left in New York?

"Some games you're going to have to throw the ball when you're up like today," Burrow said, "and other games you go out and run the ball down their throats like we did against Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago that sealed the game. It depends on what kind of game."

The killer instinct thing plays right into Burrow, a cold-blood killer himself as elite quarterback.

"We're getting there, we're getting there. Today I was really excited about how aggressive we were after we got up because we've had some points in the year where we get up a couple touchdowns, three scores and such, and we get less aggressive," Burrow said. "It's tough. We stayed aggressive today. We were able to score every time we touched the ball."

How fun was that? They scored the first seven times they had it. It wasn't like Taylor told Burrow to throw it deep to Mixon. In fact, Taylor gave him strict instructions not to scramble.

That's why after Mixon caught it inside the 10, he shrugged at the sidelines a 'la Michael after a ridiculous three.

"Zac told me not to scramble on that one and I scrambled through the hole and saw Joe Mixon. I wasn't supposed to do it, but I went out there and did it anyways," Burrow said. "But if the opportunity presents itself, game instincts kind of take over. I looked to my left and nobody was open, so I was turning to my right to throw the ball away, and then there's a hole right there so I went to the hole and I saw Joe Mixon down the field so I threw it to Joe Mixon down the field."

How fun was that? Mixon now has 1,433 yards from scrimmage after 65 running and 70 catching Sunday. That puts him on pace for 1,624 yards, a few more than Corey Dillon's 2002 club record.

Taylor, who really may have been coaching with the Jets game in mind, said he didn't know Burrow was zeroing in on five bills.

"Green Bay had them down I think it was 11 last week, had a three-and-out, and they came roaring back and had a chance to win the game," Taylor said. "And we were not going to allow that to happen."

When Boomer Esiason set the club record 490 yards that Burrow broke, he had three 100-yard receivers back on Oct. 7, 1990. Burrow nearly did. While Higgins went deep, Chase darted underneath for 125 yards on seven catches, giving him the rookie club record for catches (68) and yards (1,163). Tyler Boyd had his second plus 50 touchdown in as many games, this one a 68-yarder on his way to 85 yards.

"They were unbelievable. (The Ravens) were playing a lot of zone coverage against us and they did a great job finding those zones. Zac called a great game," Burrow said. "In the first half, they didn't blitz a lot. They played a lot of zone coverage. That obviously wasn't working out, so in the second half they started blitzing a little more. That didn't really work out either."

How fun was that?

Really, the whole afternoon was almost more about mindset than the scoreboard after six years of AFC North frustration. Like when they took the lead for good at the end of the first quarter. Down, 7-3, and fourth down on the 1, where Mixon had been stoned on third down, Taylor went for it and ran Mixon again. This time behind center Trey Hopkins and they churned together through some bodies. 10-7 and they never looked back.

"We were just in there tight, and it felt like we had to be able to get that. So we just dialed it up, and they got us in," Taylor said. "It's a mindset thing at that moment. It's fourth-and-goal on the one yard line. If we can't get it then, we don't deserve any points."

How fun was that?