On a day locker-room leaders said Sunday's 30-27 last-snap loss to the Texans at Paycor Stadium didn't meet Bengals' standards, Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase kept raising his elite level despite a limited week of practice and unlimited double teams. This wasn't The Griddy, but The Gritty.
After Chase said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor gave him the choice to play with his sore back, he carried them on his back with five catches for 124 yards while playing all but 10 snaps to put him on a pace to become the franchise's first 1,500-yard receiver and break his single-season record of 1,455.
He also padded his No. 2 ranking on the NFL's all-time list for average yards per game with 87.4, now more than a yard ahead of Julio Jones and still about 11 yards behind old LSU teammate Justin Jefferson.
"I was good throughout the whole game," said Chase, who bruised his back last week against the Bills and took 54 snaps. "Just when the game was starting, I was trying to keep myself moving. As long as I keep moving, I won't feel it."
He even took a shot late that easily was called helmet-to-helmet and bounced up.
"They hit me in the damn head, but I'm still alive," he said.
But he didn't feel good about this one.
The Bengals have been 5-4 each of the last two seasons and ended up in the AFC title game both years, winning it one year. Never did they have to do what they have to do now. Get ready for a Thursday night game in Baltimore, home of the 7-3 AFC North leaders. Chase was asked if there's a comfort level that they've been here before.
"I don't look at football like that," Chase said. "We need to be more consistent on offense. Like we were the last three games. We're limited when we're not."
The remaining football is clear. It's Ja'Marr Chase-reach-down-in-the-gut football.
Last year when they were 5-4, they had to win out to fend off a Lamar Jackson-less Ravens to win the AFC North. Now fewer than 100 hours away, Jackson waits in Baltimore and every division team is in the playoff picture ahead of the Bengals. The Texans also just slingshot past them into the seventh and last berth with the Bills and Bengals on the next two teams on the outside looking in.
Center Ted Karras is amazed at the resiliency of his team. And he says it's going to have to be.
"Great job by everyone rallying back and putting us in position to win the ballgame," Karras said. "It came down to a kick against a good Houston team we might have to see again.
"We need to do what we did last year and win … We can't dwell on it. We're 5-4, a winning record, but it's getting tight coming down the stretch here. It's the top division in football and we need to out and get a division win."
Slot cornerback Mike Hilton, who has played on North winners in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, knows better than most.
"We can right our wrong and go into Baltimore and come out with a win," Hilton said. "It's definitely not easy. It's a tough environment. Our backs are against the wall, so what are we going to do? Are we going to fold or go bow up and show who we are? It's up to us."
Karras, an offensive captain, saw the Texans' four sacks and nine hits of Burrow and observed, "It's a good front. It's the strength of their team. C.J. Stroud and the D-Line are probably the best units. And we didn't keep Joe comfortable and that affects our whole offense. When you put Joe under duress like we did today, it's not a recipe for having success."
Hilton, a defensive captain, saw a proud defense give up eight passes of at least 20 yards while surrendering 188 rushing yards: "You give those types of plays up and it will be hard to come back from, and we didn't … We definitely didn't play our best."
Without running mate Tee Higgins (hamstring), Chase battled not only his back, but coverage tilted to him. "I was doubled every play."
But just his very presence got them the first touchdown on the first series when he lined up in the slot against Cover Two and old LSU buddy Derek Stingley lined up on outside receiver Trenton Irwin. Stingley couldn't quite take his eyes off him as Irwin skated past him for a 32-yard touchdown on a Burrow deep dime down the right sideline.
"The corner (Stingley) tries to play both cover-two and quarters, and his eyes were on Ja'Marr and Joe threw a great ball," Irwin said. "(Stingley) was looking at Ja'Marr. He fought through it (the back injury). He was hurting all during the week, and he really fought through it, so I'm proud of him. He came out, made some big plays, did his thing as normal. But at the back end of it, obviously extra impressive.
"The man is a baller. He was just going out there, making plays. And we wouldn't really talk a bunch about it. But he knew what he had to do to go out there and make plays."
Chase had an idea early how they were going to play him as the Texans played top-down to strangle the deep ball. But everyone was stunned they went nearly 40 minutes without scoring a touchdown.
"Consistency," Chase said.
"Tee was down and we were limited on the one-on-one opportunities. I was doubled with (Irwin and Tyler Boyd singled up). Sometimes I was doubled and TB was doubled and leaving TI with the best corner. Their No. 1 corner vs. our No. 2 receiver and double me.
"They played a lot of two-high shell," Chase said of the top-down concept. "We just figured out what they were going to do against me in the first two series. They tried to invert it a little bit. They played well."
His best play came off script with 10 seconds left in the third quarter as he shot juice through Paycor with a 64-yard touchdown catch from Burrow throwing a memorable ball running to his left that had to be 50 yards in the air as Chase caught it at about the Texans 23 after reversing his drag route off the scramble.
It was Chase's eighth touchdown catch of at least 50 yards in his career, most by three over Tyreek Hill in the NFL since 2021.
"That's the scramble drill for us," Burrow said. "That turns into big plays, big touchdowns in those situations. He does a great job of that every single time. That was a big play."
But it was on script in the sense that Burrow came out for the second half after feeling the heat from the Houston front determined to move more.
"They have some juice up front. So, after that first half, I was going into the second half thinking that I was going to scramble a little bit more, try to make some plays with my legs, and [I] made some," Burrow said. "I was planning on going out and making some more plays with my legs. I thought I was able to do that. Zac (Taylor) called a really good second half. We were able to mix up our play calls in that situation that was able to get us some explosives."
The villain up front was eight-year defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who may have played his best game in his 101st with three sacks. The last one was a killer, a quick knockdown that floored Burrow from the inside for a seven-yard loss on first down from the Texans 7 with the clock ticking toward 1:30.
"One thing that's underrated about him is his ability to run, and his ability to use his speed," said Rankins, who knew adjustments were coming. "We knew coming out that it was going to be on us to continue our gap integrity, because if you give him a lane to slip out — you saw on that one run he had. Even on the touchdown where he gets out, and is able to make the throw downfield. He's able to do some great things with his legs, so we knew it was going to be on us to come up with some big plays, continue our gap integrity, and continue to collapse everything around him."
There appeared to be no celebration from Chase. No back flip, like in San Fran two weeks ago. No Griddy, like his social media dominance. He seemed to be telling us that's the way it is the rest of the way.
"No," said Chase, when asked if he preferred a quick Thursday night turnaround after what Karras called "a raw," loss. "But that's football."