With the Bengals hosting the Bills Sunday night (8:20-Cincinnati's Channel 5) in Paycor Stadium's city of stripes, it is November now. In the last two seasons, that's when Bengals Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Burrow has become a stone-cold killer.
The Bengals are 5-1 in the last two Novembers. Starting from their first November game in 2021, not counting the day they sat all the starters in Cleveland and counting six postseason games, they are 18-4 in November, December, and January.
This October just passed has been pretty good, too. They have won three straight, but the January Man isn't looking very far down the calendar.
"You've just got to keep it a day at a time. I know it sounds cliche," said Burrow after Wednesday's All Saints Day practice, "but if you look too far ahead and look too far in the past, then you're going to lose track of what you're doing and you just have to keep your nose to the grindstone and get better every day. It's cliche, but that's what it is."
What it is this:
Burrow is the hottest quarterback in the NFL and it doesn't look like Sunday night is going to be too cold for a strained calf that he and everybody else seems to have forgotten. With a low of 47 degrees predicted for Sunday, that's right there with Wednesday's 45-degree practice.
"I don't think so," said Burrow when asked if the cold impacts the calf. "It's tough to tell. We haven't had cold weather except for today. It wasn't an issue today. I don't expect it to be an issue."
What is at issue is 5-3 Buffalo, a menacing AFC power the Bengals subdued during last year's snowy AFC Divisional in Buffalo, 27-10. The Bengals are 4-0 against the NFC West, 0-3 against the AFC. Burrow and head coach Zac Taylor are downplaying the late conference start.
"The season plays out how it plays out. We would love to be 7-0 but that's not where we're at," Burrow said.
At 4-3, the Bengals are on the outside looking in at the playoffs, but not by much. Two AFC North rivals, the Steelers and Browns, have the last two AFC spots at 4-3, and the Bengals play the Steelers twice and the Browns once. The only team in the playoffs right now that the Bengals don't play the rest of the way are the Dolphins.
It all starts with the Bills, pauses with a home game against a team not in the picture as of now in the 3-4 Texans, followed quickly by a game at 6-2 Baltimore before ending November at Paycor against the Steelers.
"We're going to have to beat teams like this if we're going to get to where we're going to get to," Burrow said. "It's a great team with a great quarterback and a really good defense, a team that obviously we played in the playoffs last year and we have a chance to play again, so it's going to be a fun one."
IN YOSHI WE TRUST: Some people's nickname for rookie Bengals wide receiver Andre Iosivas is "Yoshi,' which kind of sounds like his last name. Just call him "Resourceful."
He has played just 15% of the snaps (65) but has 20 % of Burrow's 10 touchdown passes with two. Both on some wily, veteran-like moves in the red zone.
"He's a physical, strong guy, he's a fast guy. His scramble drill, he has a great feel for it," Burrow said. "You can't coach that kind of stuff. He's a guy who has worked really hard for his opportunities, and he has made the most of them when he has gotten them. He'll keep doing that. That's the guy he is, it seems like."
Trust is a big word when these receivers talk to this quarterback.
"It comes with reps in practice and games reps. I would say it just depends on the opportunities that you get and our guys have the most made out of them," Burrow said. "When you have guys that work really hard to get better and you have guys that own their role on the team, that's the quickest way to do it.
"He has earned that. He's a guy we have a lot of faith in. He always knows what he's doing. It seems like he's going to do the right thing wherever he's at on the field and make contested catches and make big plays for us."
FLANNEL MAGIC: Linebacker Clay Johnston is back and so is his flannel jacket that always seems to be in his locker or on his back.
Johnston, a playoff hero and special teams staple of the last two seasons, signed to the practice squad Tuesday after a workout revealed he's ready to go after tearing his ACL in the AFC championship game.
"This flannel has magic in it somewhere," said Johnston as he checked on it after Wednesday's practice. "Have to summon it up somehow. The last two years it's been like that."
Johnston arrived after getting waived from Carolina in mid-season two years ago and got here in time to log six tackles and a forced fumble in seven games in the kicking game.
He also came up with one of the biggest plays on the march to the Super Bowl when he came flying off the right edge on his one scrimmage snap to stone none other than Derrick Henry. It came on Tennessee's two-point try from the 1 in the AFC Divisional and with the help of safety Vonn Bell made it a 16-16 game until Evan McPherson's walk-off 52-yard field goal.
He had another eight special teams tackles in all 16 games last year as one of coordinator Darrin Simmons' core guys. Johnston believes it was on the Bengals' last punt return in the AFC title game where it happened.
After getting locked up at the line of scrimmage, Johnston and his foe disengaged "and we were running downfield and made eye contact. And I think we decided we were just going to kill each other," said Johnston, who levied a hit and wrecked the knee as he went down.
"He messaged me on Instagram and said, 'Sorry about your knee, bro.' It was very nice of him," said Johnston, who can't remember the name.
He was really sorry he wasn't out there for the Chiefs' last punt return, a Skyy Moore 29-yarder with 30 seconds left that set up Kansas City's trip to the Super Bowl.
"Trust me. I think about that day," Johnston said. "Maybe I could have helped. Maybe not. You never know."
What Johnston does know is that he's ecstatic he's back. He's been cleared for about 10 days and this is where he wanted to be.
"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. This is home," Johnston said. "There are some new faces, but the chemistry and the camaraderie is still tremendous. One of the guys said, 'Now it's back to normal.' I'm thankful to be back."
ZAC TV: Bengals Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., fresh from reigning over Nick Bosa, the guy they like to call "reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year," wasn't here the last time the Bills came to Paycor.
He was the left tackle for the Chiefs and it will be recalled back on Jan. 2 that this was the next-to-last game of the year and the Bengals and Buffalo were playing for what could be the top seed.
Which made the Chiefs more than interested bystanders, so Brown invited the offensive line to his house to watch. The Chiefs ended up getting the top seed as the Bengals won't soon forget, but not before watching the horror of Bills safety Damar Hamlin being revived on the field after a cardiac arrest. He took note of the actions of his future head coach, Zac Taylor as the game was postponed and later canceled.
"I remember the way he handled it," Brown recalled after Monday's practice. "The meeting with Zac and (Bills head coach) Sean McDermott in the middle of the field and they speak, and both teams head in. That was very, very empathetic the way Zac handled that. You kind of see it and you know.
"To be emotionally aware in that situation is really difficult given the circumstances. 'I've seen grown men crying. I've seen something happen I've never seen happen on a football field. Our guys feel a certain way, I can see their guys.' That was the right call on his behalf."
The Bengals making Brown their biggest acquisition of last offseason also looks to be the right call after he bested Bosa's riches defensive contact ever.
"He's as advertised. He's a great player," Burrow said Wednesday. "Big, strong, athletic, you saw it on Sunday blocking some of the best edge rushers in the league. We're excited to have him."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Some big names didn't practice Wednesday in both camps, but are expected to go Sunday, as in Bengals Pro Bowl sacker Trey Hendrickson (eight sacks in seven games) and Bills Pro Bowl quarterback Josh Allen
Hendrickson (foot) got hurt in the second quarter Ls Sunday against the 49ers, but returned to have a strip-sack to basically end the game. Allen has a lingering sore throwing shoulder, but has indicated it would have to be a lot more serious to keep him out Sunday …
Hamlin, who has been active for one game this season, didn't wok Wednesday because of an illness …
Bengals safety Tycen Anderson (knee) and his team-leading eight special teams tackles didn't practice, as well as defensive tackle Josh Tupou (shoulder) …
Running back Joe Mixon (chest) off his best game of the season with 87 yards and going against the team he had 105 in the snowy AFC Divisional in Bufalo, was limited …
So was special-teams linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither in his first practice in a month …
Burrow has never played in a losing Paycor prime game and he's not going to start now.
"I expect it to be rocking. It's going to be an exciting game. I know the fans are going to come out and do what they do," Burrow said. "What happened is in the past. I think everybody remembers it but you know (we're) not going to dwell on it. I know (Hamlin is) not either. I know our fans are going to support, be loud, be proud. We're going to fight our tails off for it." …