Now Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase knows how NFL defensive backs feel after his first 24 pro games.
As he emerged his from four-game absence Wednesday with the anticipation of playing Sunday (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the Chiefs at Paycor Stadium, he reflected on the month-long exile.
"It's been like COVID. I've been trapped at home," Chase said.
The hairline hip fracture that sent him to Elba necessitated him to get off his feet for as long as possible. Before he began his second week of practice like he began his first last week, in limited fashion, he said he felt great and was preparing like he was playing Sunday. After practice offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said he looked good, like he did last week. Like all last week, he was listed as limited.
"I feel great. I don't have (any) pains, no feelings right now in nothing that I'm doing or I wouldn't be practicing at all," Chase said.
Same old Chase when he met the media, the first clue he'll make his comeback game against the Chiefs defense he lit for an NFL rookie-record 266 yards last year in the next-to-last week of the regular season.
Asked if a few weeks back he saw the now famous catch by his former LSU teammate and the man he succeeded as NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Justin Jefferson, he had a twinkle in his eye.
"One-handed? That guy is unstoppable," Chase said. "He needs to slow down a bit, though. Is there a chance? I don't know. Would I be the first to get to 1,000 and miss four? How many games do we have left? 1,000 every year is the goal."
He's got no shot of breaking Jefferson's record of most yards in the first two seasons of a career and since he's got 605 yards in seven games this season it's going to be a moonshot to catch Jefferson at 1,232, one behind NFL leader Tyreek Hill.
And back in the strike season of 1982, Elias says Wes Chandler is the player who had a 1,000-yard season in the fewest games. He missed eight and still led the league with 1,032 yards.
But Chase can catch Jefferson in one category. If he plays Sunday and gets 40 yards, Chase ties Jefferson as the third fastest ever to reach 2,100 receiving yards. According to Elias, he would join Jefferson, Lance Alworth and Billy Howton at 25 games.
And Chase has a good shot for 1,000 yards. He'll have to average 66 yards per in the last six games and he's got a career 86 yards per game.
But he may not be able to catch teammate Tee Higgins. With Chase healing, Higgins has been dealing. He's coming off two 100-yard games to put him at 826 and Chase is fine with that.
"It was funny because me and him had a little chat about me being out and me being on crutches," Chase said. "He told me, 'I'm kind of glad you're on crutches because now I get a chance to show the world what I can do with me and Joe (Burrow).' I'm like, 'Honestly, I don't have a problem with what you just said. You know what I said? 'Handle business."'
Now it's a question of how the coaches handle Chase's business on Sunday when it comes to snap counts. Save him for the fourth quarter? Play him early to get him loose? Put him on a pitch count?
"You go by what he tells you," Callahan said. "You always have a contingency plan based on what plays he should be involved in and what plays we can highlight some of the other guys' strengths as well, particularly on first, second and third down. Try to get him in the places where he feels good and routes that he feels comfortable with. If he feels great and wants to go, then let him roll. And if he feels like, the pitch count is the right thing for me, we'll manage it as the game goes along.
"We've got enough guys that have stepped up and played for us that we'll move guys in and out of the huddle and let them play and let them do the things they've been doing the last couple of weeks, too. Just add Ja'Marr to the mix."
Count Chase as one of the guys who feels great for Trenton Irwin, one of those guys that stepped up. When Chase went to Elba, Irwin broke out and went to the active roster from the practice squad with his first NFL touchdown catch and a huge catch in each of the winning drives the last two weeks.
"T.I. has been making some incredible plays, last-second hands, back shoulders him and Joe have been connecting crazy good right now," Chase said. "I watched T.I. every day at practice, watch him in meetings taking notes like crazy. It's good to see transition from practice to the game that easy. I'm proud of him like that."
Here's the kind of teammate Chase is. He not only gave Higgins his blessing to go off, but he took Irwin aside when he found he was going to miss some games.
"I knew he was the next man up. Why not hear it coming from me than a coach?" Chase said. "I'm telling you personally that I'm not playing. This is your moment to step up and make plays for yourself. That's exactly what he did. I never, not one second, downgraded nothing he did. I always wanted to pick him up, make sure we we're always going in the right foot. "
You know Irwin's fabulous diving catch last Sunday in Tennessee that held up on replay and converted a third-and-12 early in the fourth quarter in a 13-13 game that made the winning touchdown possible on the next play?
It was a back-shoulder throw that Burrow and Chase have patented. Burrow sends Chase by himself split on one side and sends the other three receivers to the other side in the hopes of getting Chase one-on-one. On this play, Irwin was the X, where Chase would be. On this play, Chase was on the sideline standing next to receivers coach Troy Walters and as he told Walters what play he would run, that's the play that came out of head coach Zac Taylor's headset.
Chase hopes to continue to be on the same page against a new-look Kansas City secondary. His record game is a big reason it is new look. The guy he destroyed last year, cornerback Charvarius Ward (like on third-and-27) is no longer there and replaced by promising first-rounder Trent McDuffie.
The two safeties aren't there, either, and last week rookie Bryan Cook, a second-round rookie from suburban Cincinnati in Mount Healthy via the University of Cincinnati, got his first NFL start. But long-time NFL defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is solid and so are these guys with a No. 14 NFL ranking.
The one starter back is cornerback L'Jarius Snead. He didn't escape Chase's wrath, either, allowing 21 yards after catch and a flag on a late hit. And everybody seemed to get burned on what Chase calls the favorite play of his career, a 72-yarder in which he turned an out route inside and his speed turned the Kansas City defense inside-out.
"I was looking real fast on that. I didn't know I was going that fast," Chase said. "I know they have an all new, almost, secondary. A lot of rookie DBs. I know Sneed is back, they've got new safeties, too, so it's going to be nice matchups, see how they game plan us, see what they come up with scheme wise and they've got to play us so we got to execute."
Chase is quite bullish on his Bengals. He was holed up streaming games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty. But the 2022 Bengals were also on his screen.
"They have been playing outstanding football," Chase said. "Joe has been having a great connection with the receivers now, that's something new and something that I don't usually see from the sideline. Then, watching Samaje (Perine) run like a madman every down. Our O-line is looking crazy good right now, the defense looking good too, so I mean we have an all-around team right now, so everybody's providing and giving their job."
VIRAL VICTORY FORMATION: Center Ted Karras' burgeoning Bengals legend grew Sunday when his post-game reaction to the Titans reaction to the Bengals' victory formation went viral.
If you didn't know the Bengals offensive line is forming a potent chemistry, you do now.
Karras had no idea he was channeling "The Undertaker," a favorite pro wrestler of his from back in the day as he walked off the field serenading the Nissan Stadium crowd.
He was just spewing a few choice words in an advisory of sorts, still fuming about the Titans defensive line taking shots during the final kneel downs.
"It was Jeffery Simmons," Karras said of the Titans talented defensive tackle who had a miserable day, thanks to Karras and guards Alex Cappa and Cordell Volson. "That's their right, but usually protocol (is not to do that) and we have the right to let them know how we feel about that."
Simmons, who had three sacks of Burrow the last time they played, didn't have three touches and Tennessee's second-ranked run defense got pushed back for 108 yards and a red-zone touchdown blast from running back Samaje Perine.
"The linemen were a little mad we got after them," said right tackle La'el Colins. "They were cheap shotting when we were taking a knee. We were saying. 'Game's over, y'all lost. Don't take cheap shot at our guys.'"
Somewhere in there, Karras says he got hit in the face.
"One thing about Teddy," Collins said. "He's not shy at all. He's going to let you know how he feels. He's a hell of a player and a hell of a dude. I love having him as teammate."
Bengals fans also love having Karras on the team, as evidenced by his 175 texts he had yet to read before Wednesday's practice. Asked if there were any negative he said, "Just people from Tennessee."
"A viral moment. Thank you to the Cincy fans for the great response," Karras said. "You can't live like that all the time. But big victory, let it loose a little bit. Obviously it was received pretty well … It affected a lot of people. I was shocked by the reach of it."
Asked what his wife thought about it, Karras said, "She knows me. She loved it.
"Whatever, it's not about that anymore. We're moving on to the Chiefs."
For the Bengals, it was another enjoyable day at the office with Karras.
"That's the same energy that he's bringing on a Wednesday morning, this morning, getting ready for our first meeting of the week," Burrow said. "He's so consistent with his energy. That's kind of something we haven't had on this team before. He brings an energy in the locker room that is kind of hard to describe."
INJURY UPDATE: Running back Joe Mixon looks to be in the final stages of concussion protocol. He went limited in his first practice since getting a concussion ten days ago against the Steelers.
Nose tackle Josh Tupou (calf), who hasn't played in more than a month, looks to be on the verge of returning. He went full Wednesday. D.J. Reader (ankle), the guy he backs up, went limited.