BENGALS WR JA'MARR CHASE VS. SAINTS CB MARSHON LATTIMORE AND S TYRANN MATHIEU
The man who answers the phone Wednesday night at one of the three locations of New Orleans Food and Spirits, Chase's favorite hometown restaurant, is breaking down his favorite dish.
"It's basically a crawfish bread. It's traditional in New Orleans," the man says. "It's basically an egg roll style version with crawfish in there, a little Monterey Jack cheese and a Cajun cream sauce inside an egg roll. Three per order. If you dine in you can get six per order because they're easy to share."
Expect Voodoo Rolls all around Saturday night when the Bengals get to town. Chase, who usually stays in the hotel the night before a road game and waits for the food to come to him, plans to take some of his teammates there and he's recommending it to everybody else.
But that's as close as he's going to get to Voodoo.
Chase, who once fled after completing a reluctant photo shoot in one of those haunted houses that stock and stalk his hometown, takes his game to the more familiar and vibrant environs of the Caesars Superdome Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) when the Bengals try to stay alive against the Saints.
"Talking about the spirits? I'm not paying attention to that, man. I'm a human," says Chase, a Crescent City legend clearly not a fan of the region's other traditions. "I don't like the spooky stuff."
Chase comes home looking a lot more human than he did in his first five games last season as a rookie, when he led the NFL with four 40-yard catches and became one of two players in NFL history with at least a 30-yard catch in each of their first five games of their career. Although he's still looking for his first 40-yarder of the season and has just one catch of 30, he's upbeat about being close to crashing the maze of scary zones and brackets as he seeks a big game.
"My second big game. I feel like I went crazy here at Pittsburgh," says Chase of his season-high 129 yards in the opener. "Defenses are finding a way to slow us down a little bit. We have to find a way to adjust, make plays on our feet and that's when we're going to start going deep again. We've got plans, we just have to execute."
Chase expects the four-time Pro Bowler Lattimore to follow him, pitting the 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year vs. the 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year. But Lattimore (abdomen) may not play after missing practice Wednesday. With teams zoning him much of the time, he'll most certainly brush shoulders with Mathieu, his fellow bayou icon working on his fourth team with three All-Pro berths.
"We don't talk much. I know of him," says Chase, who watched Mathieu become "The Honey Badger," as an almost mythical LSU legend the decade before he and Joe Burrow did.
"I watched a little bit of his tape coming in. I was probably playing basketball when he was being called 'The Honey Badger,'" Chase says. "Great ball hawk. Smart player. He cheats to the sides. He tries to mess with the quarterback He's a definitely a vet in the secondary. I don't know what to expect. He's a vet. He knows how to fake it, he knows how to disguise it."
Chase never hides when he's there. "People know who I am. I'm comfortable back home." Growing up 15 minutes from the Superdome over the bridge in
Metairie, La., his Archbishop Rummel High School team lost the 2015 state title game in there. Everyone knows it was there he caught nine balls for 221 yards from Burrow for two touchdowns four years later in the national title game.
"It shouldn't feel different. Just another game. I'm just playing at home in front of my family and friends, that's all," Chase says. "It's exciting to play in front of those guys, that's why emotions could be high."
He'd love to get another number like that one against Clemson that night to conjure up his rookie year, but …
"I'm just doing my job, man," Chase said. "I want to be the best player on the field. I want to strive to put up the crazy stats, of course. Whatever is helping the team to win any way possible. I don't have to go crazy. (Go) seventy yards. I'm not really tripping. I just want to win the game, make sure we get to the playoffs and push forward."
Still, still. He's the league's 16th leading receiver with more yards than CeeDee Lamb, Terry McLaurin and Amari Cooper. He's tied for eighth with Buffalo's Stefon Diggs for most first downs. The 10.7 yards is far below last year's 18, but there are things like last Sunday night's final drive, when he put the Bengals on the doorstep to tie it with his longest catch of the night, a 13-yarder on a huge third down working against Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the red zone. Earlier in the drive, he caught two balls for 15 yards and a drew a holding penalty.
"Teams are very aware of him. We have to be mindful of that, as we are," says head coach Zac Taylor. "Try our best to put him in a good position to still be productive for us, which he was. Heading into that final drive he was a key point of emphasis for us and made all the plays we gave him an opportunity to make. He was a big part of us going down and scoring a touchdown there even though there was a pretty good idea he was going to get the ball he still made the most of those opportunities.
"Those guys have done a really good job handling it when they have put an added emphasis on leaning a safety to him, doubling him on third down, clouding him, carrying him a little bit more in the clouds. Those are all things that came from being a great receiver."
It's really an intriguing matchup if the 6-0, 192-pound Lattimore can go and Chase clearly loves going against the best: "He plays off in space, he's a good performer, it will be a fun matchup."
But the most interesting has to be the two legends, the 6-0, 205-pound Chase vs. the 5-9. 190-pound Badger. Brad Kragthorpe, the Bengals assistant wide receivers coach, has a unique view of him. Not only is he watching the tape of the 30-year-old Mathieu in his 10th
season, he saw him do his thing at LSU in 2011, when his dad was the quarterbacks coach, and Kragthorpe was a quarterback in the same training camp in 2012.
"He's still 'The Honey Badger.' Still creating turnovers," Kragthorpe says. "He's extremely smart. Understands route concepts. Understands different areas of the field and where he needs to be in terms of being the best defensive back he can be.
"He was incredible. He's one of the best defensive backs to ever play college football. First and foremost, he was constantly creating turnovers. Really impactful as a returner and on special teams. It felt like every play during that 2011 season he was always making some monumental plays."
The Badger is still marking the categories. He's got an interception for the 27th of his career, fourth among active safeties, as well as a pass defensed and a fumble recovery and is among the leading safeties with 28 tackles.
Burrow, also known as Chase's translator during his rookie season when that thick New Orleans accent mystified his teammates, has spoken to him on occasion and sees him on film.
"Same old player that he always is. He's making plays, he's all over the field," Burrow said. "He's really good. He's a really good instinctual player that understand your route concepts and splits to maybe jump a route here or there. He's the same player he's always been, a really good instinctual player."
Chase's family loves the Saints. He knows their favorite ones from back in the day.
"My Auntie's is Marques Colston. My mom likes AK (Alvin Kamara and Drew Bees. Pops likes Brees and Marques Colston," Chase says.
They took Chase to the dome to watch those Saints, but they'll be rooting for these Bengals, of course. He's got 15 tickets for everybody.
"I'm pretty sure a lot of the city is going to go for the Bengals, but they're still going to go for the Saints at the same time," Chase says.
He's got one thing to do in town before Sunday.
"Get a reservation," Chase says of the Saturday night dinner. "Make sure everything is perfectly set up for us."
He hopes the logistics last through Sunday.