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Quick Hits: Ja'Marr Takes The Lead As He Eyes New Connection Vs. Steelers; Browning Has A Chip Of His Own; Higgins, Taylor-Britt Remain Out

WR Ja'Marr Chase catches the ball during practice at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Wednesday, November 22, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
WR Ja'Marr Chase catches the ball during practice at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Wednesday, November 22, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

No Joe Burrow, who has a 3-2 record against the Steelers. No Tee Higgins, at least as of Wednesday and Thursday, the leading active NFL receiver against Pittsburgh. Heading into Sunday's Almost Wild Card game at Paycor Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12), Ja'Marr Chase is sounding more and more like a leader and not just the record-breaking two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver.

The man whose name is virtually synonymous with Burrow after winning an undefeated collegiate national title and AFC championship with him (not to mention two previous November games against the Steelers), is set to be there for Jake Browning in his first NFL start.

"I remember saying to my guys, telling the receiver room specifically," Chase recalled Wednesday of the last training camp Burrow missed all but two days with a strained calf. Attack the day every day like it's Joe. You never know when we might need Jake again. When the opportunity comes, we'll be ready for it.'"

Chase is coming off two catches for 12 yards in Baltimore for the second-fewest yards of his 39-game career. All but four of his 239 catches, 38 of his 3,334 yards, and one of his 28 touchdowns have come from Burrow. His two catches for 26 yards in the finale of his rookie year from Brandon Allen gave him the franchise's single-season receiving yardage title with 1,455 and his one catch from Browning was Browning's only NFL touchdown pass on a two-yard pylon fade.

Browning doubts they could have pulled off if it hadn't been for a training camp's worth of reps.

"We worked that this offseason a little bit. Actually, we had a little trouble with that route and it showed," Chase said. "(On Thursday we had) good timing, ran a good route, perfect throw. Just timing. It goes back to the offseason. I'm glad we attacked those days when we had the opportunity."

Head coach Zac Taylor is talking about having his entire playbook for Browning to use. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan is talking about putting a good brand of scheme around him and Browning's let-it-go confidence. "He's not scared … He's going to put it where it's supposed to be and he's going to do it with confidence. That gives me a lot of confidence. That gives our offense a lot of confidence." The man himself has asked the coaches not to protect him and to call the game to win.

Chase and the receivers get a whiff of that, especially when it comes to the long ball.

"Hearing that gives confidence to the receivers," said Chase, who has caught more 50-yard touchdown throws than anyone since he came into the league. "I think that's why most of the receivers love Jake. We're all surprised he'll throw it deep. He doesn't let us know he's going to throw it. That keeps the receivers alert on any route we have. Jake and I weren't on it in the offseason, but we're going to get the chance for some down-field throws now. It's all about timing and preparation. As long as we get the timing down now, I think we'll find it. Take shots when we get them. It's just how the defense reacts and plays. That's the biggest keys always when it comes to deep shots."

Chase says Browning's strengths are the deep ball and his ability to move out of the pocket. But he also admitted, "We'll find out together." What Chase thinks he knows is that three-time All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson is going to follow him and that the Steelers are going to do what the Ravens did and double him. Especially if Higgins, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, doesn't play. Higgins averages 87 yards per game against the Steelers. No active player with at least five games against Pittsburgh averages more.

But Chase also averages 78 yards per in his three games against them and that includes last season's 10-catch, 129-yard opener. Despite last Thursday's blip, Chase's average of 83 yards per game this season puts him on pace with buddy Justin Jefferson, Randy Moss, and Odell Beckham Jr. as the only players in NFL history to average at least 80 yards per game in each of their first three seasons. He's also on pace for another 1,400-yard season (1,416).

About the only thing the Steelers give up through the air is yards. They've got the NFL's second-best mark in defending completion percentage, third-most interceptions, fourth-most passes defensed, and the sixth-best passer rating. Chase hears the naysayers regarding their playoff run now that Burrow is out for the year. Not surprising, he says.

"He's one of the best players in the league, a No. 1 pick. Play our game, play Bengals football. Execute. Stay consistent," Chase said. "I feel like we have a shot at getting into the playoffs. Have to win both of these games against the Steelers. Then come back and beat the Browns that last game. We still have opportunities. Just make sure we get in the playoffs and just keep rolling."

He may not be playing with Burrow, but one of the league's best playmakers thinks he can do it with Browning, too.

"We'll show y'all this week," Chase said. "Wait for the show."

JAKE's CHIP: No one has a bigger chip than Burrow, right? Underrecruited after putting Athens High School on the map. Bypassed and injured at Ohio State. Overlooked at LSU by the national pundits.

Well, except maybe if you have Browning's chip.

How about a small world? Browning hasn't started a game since the 2019 Rose Bowl against, naturally, an Ohio State club quarterbacked by the guy who beat out Burrow, Dwayne Haskins. He came into the league undrafted. Since then, Browning has been cut every year but this one. The old names recycle (Hoyer, Heinicke, White) and the new names flood rosters and get chances (O'Connell, Zappe, DeVito), too. For Browning, it's been nearly five years since that last start.

"I had to earn everything. I had to battle. Here I am," Browning said Wednesday on his first podium.   "When you're buried on quarterback depth charts and didn't come into the league as a high pick, yeah you're frustrated. You watch guys make teams that you objectively feel like you're better than.'

This offseason, after two years on each of the practice squads of the Bengals and Vikings, had been a bit of a demarcation point. Browning had chances to go off and look elsewhere, but he felt the Bengals were always straight with him and when they told him he had a flat-out chance to win the job against vet journeyman Trevor Siemian (a recyclable name with wins), he felt like it was as good as getting a job.

"You have to wait around until they didn't draft a guy this year. That really was the main reason I had an opportunity. That's been something I've battled," Browning said. "I take a lot of pride going through the last four years and keeping my head on straight. I've watched a lot of good quarterbacks go through those situations and lose their confidence or get frustrated or whatever it may be.

"I got that chip on my shoulder and a lot of confidence. I've had to earn everything. This has not been A, you're the guy and here are the keys. Or, you're the backup and here are the keys. A lot of meetings in the offseason. 'It's this guy's job to lose.' That's the most frustrating thing you can hear. It doesn't matter how well you play. Someone else has to lose it. You're hoping that someone else sucks. Now when you get into an offseason and it's an open competition, I'm happy as hell. For some guys, that would be something they feel like they're entitled to the backup spot."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: Even with the mini-bye, Higgins (hamstring) and cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (quad) have yet to practice this week. Neither worked Thursday …

On Thursday starting defensive linemen Sam Hubbard (ankle) and B.J. Hill (knee) again went limited. Backup tackle D'Ante Smith (knee) appeared to get hurt Thursday when he surfaced on the injury report limited …

Rookie wide receiver Andrei Iosivas went full Thursday for the first time since he injured his knee Nov. 12 against the Texas …

Rookie running back Chase Brown (hamstring) looking at a Sunday return after missing the last four games, went full again Thursday. The Bengals were getting ready to unveil Brown the week he got hurt on kickoff return in practice. He's got two carries for six yards and three catches for seven yards, but everyone is expecting those numbers to expand when he gets back.

"Sitting back and watching for four weeks, I tried to use to an advantage almost," Brown said. "Dig into the playbook a little more. Some things I was maybe hesitant on, I just wanted to re-surface everything and make sure mentally that I wasn't going to fall behind. I was going to get ahead during those four weeks. It's exactly what I did. I feel like I can play really fast.

"Bad timing really bad timing. There's more opportunity coming. I don't look at the injury as a bad thing, but with the timing and what was ahead, that was the stressful part." …

If Higgins doesn't play, Ja'Marr Chase has a chance to catch him on the Bengals all-time list Sunday. Higgins has 242 catches for 3,356 yards while Chase goes in with 239 and 3,334, respectively ….

With 17 yards Sunday, running back Joe Mixon becomes the third Bengals back with 6,000 career rushing yards, joining Corey Dillon and James Brooks ...

Slot receiver Tyler Boyd needs seven catches to become the fifth Bengal with 500, joining Chad Johnson, A.J. Green, Carl Pickens, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh ...

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