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'Very In The Moment' Bengals Keep Rolling In AFC North And History

Tyler Boyd had a career day Sunday.
Tyler Boyd had a career day Sunday.

If anyone can compare performances by Joe Burrow, it is his partner in rhyme, Ja'Marr Chase, the wide receiver who has chased his passes from national title games to Super Bowls.

So it had to be asked Sunday after Burrow led the Bengals to their fourth win in the last five games with a historic passing display fueling a 35-17 victory over the Falcons before a happy, humid Paycor Stadium crowd of 66,158.

Just where did this one rate?

"What was his passing?" Chase asked.

"Four eighty one," he was told, the most passing yards game in the NFL this season.

"No. What were his attempts?" Chase asked.

"Forty-two. Thirty-four for 42," he was told.

"When I heard that, that was just crazy," said Chase, who had 130 of them. "That just lets you know that he he's not missing anything and we're catching everything.  It's outstanding calls by Zac (Taylor),  adjustments by Joe getting the ball in the right spots. That's him. He's just playing his game. And he plays it with his feet and knows where to go with the ball."

While Burrow plays with his feet, he racks up feats never done.  It was the second time in his career Burrow created more than 500 total yards and four total touchdowns and became the only player in NFL history to do that twice. The first time was the Bengals-record 525-yard torch job just ten games ago against the Ravens and this was the best passing day in the league since.

In the last two seasons in the league of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers, he has three of the four biggest passing days because you can't forger the 446 he put on Mahomes' Chiefs to win the AFC North.

"Man, Joe Burrow was on point today," said wide receiver Tee Higgins, who had 93 more. "He was throwing dimes, darts, whatever y'all call it, he was doing it."

What Burrow was doing was becoming the first man in history to have five 400-yard games during his first three seasons. He's also the first quarterback to post at least 475 pass yards, three pass touchdowns and a rush touchdown in a win since Norm Van Brocklin opened the 1951 season with the still NFL record of 554 pass yards.

How long ago?

The day after Van Brocklin did that, CBS broadcast the first football game in color from Philadelphia in a college game Penn played against Cal.

"The first (touchdown) pass today to TB," said Higgins of the 60-yard floater down the seam to wide receiver Tyler Boyd that began his career day of 155 yards. "Once he threw that, I'm like, 'It's going to be a good one.'"

As technicolor as Burrow's day was by one of the NFL's greatest leading men (none of the great Cincy quarterbacks had ever completed 81 percent of more than 40 passes), the Bengals romped to their fourth win in five games with head coach Zac Taylor's seemingly endless roster of workman-like-under-the-radar pros who play like marquee names.

"We're just a very in the moment team," said Chidobe Awuzie, who is the personification of all that as quite possibly the best cornerback in the current NFL to never go to a Pro Bowl. "That's the whole team. We've got a couple of big names on offense and for them not to have an ego, how can any of us ever have an ego?

"We respect each other. We respect the game. We know it could be anybody's day and today it was Tyler's. He's an amazing guy for us, an amazing leader. He keeps getting it loose in the locker room."

This defense is used to going low-profile with Burrow frequently foraying into history. But the defense made a slice of it, too, when they became the third team in the 52 years of the merger to hold a team without a second-half touchdown.

Awuzie is quietly a big reason for that. At times he was singled up on the Falcons' top target, All-World tight end Kyle Pitts ("We mixed it up") who was held on the Ohio River to three catches for nine yards.

Once, Awuzie broke up Pitts in the end zone on Atlanta's lone touchdown drive. Early in that 16-play slog that took more than 10 minutes and almost seemed to take the Falcons out of it rather than get them back in it at 21-7, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo offered one of his famous in-game coaching points.

"He's really a big receiver. It's really 11 (three receivers and a tight end). There's one tight end out there and Pitts. He's a very big athlete and they try to mismatch him. We had stuff planned for him," Awuzie said. "He started motioning and its funny because in that drive a motion happened, too, and I went in front of the linebackers and Coach Lou was yelling at me, 'Go behind the backers, go behind the backers.' They ran that play later in the drive and I ran behind the backers and got a good angle and hit him."

Pitts is pretty much the reason under-the-radar Hayden Hurst is the Bengals tight end. The Falcons drafted Pitts No. 4 in 2021, Chase No. 5 and Hurst went to Cincinnati as a free agent. He quietly outplayed Pitts Sunday and while his six catches for 48 yards were lost in Sunday's star-studded sheet, they weren't in the locker room.

Taylor gave him a game ball and Chase, who did it last week, chose Hurst to break them down with the Who-Dey chant once the game balls were delivered.

"That's what we expected. All three receivers to have a great game like that," Chase said. "And Hayden fitting in to the offense. It just makes everybody around a piece of the puzzle."

The offensive line has seemed to solve their jigsaw. It has gone from beleaguered to beloved in the last month and the five guys seem to load up well in the shotgun.

After a week they were in that formation for all but two snaps, they went under center only a dozen times Sunday out of 66 plays. Burrow was hit just five times out of 45 drop-backs, three for sacks, as the offensive line adjusted to Atlanta uncharacteristically showing five-man pressures.

So there were times left guards Alex Cappa and Cordell Volson singled up on Falcons Pro Bowl tackle Grady Jarrett and while Jarrett had a sack, he didn't wreck the game and Burrow had time for history.

Getting it out quick was key, of course.  Next Gen's quick passing had Burrow 21 of 25 for 254 yards and two touchdowns. But he had time to get it deep, 15 of 20 for 335 yards and three touchdowns on passes 10 yards or longer.

"It's fun," Cappa said. "You keep looking back there and it's "Again, Joe?" and he says, 'Yeah, yeah.'"

Center Ted Karras joked that if they kept running Burrow's 20-yard draw in the last drive, they would have run for 100 yards. They did mange to run for 78, but that was after a first half they ran it five times and threw it 25. When they drained the last 8:44 of the game, they had seven of their 21 runs.

"It's fun jogging down the field after a 30-yard play," Karras said. "Golly, I'm proud of this team's demeanor. The way we came out. But we've got to keep it going. Now we're over .500 and we have to continue to keep separating from the pack."

Burrow and his wide receivers seemed primed to do just that. They're six quarters from the halfway point and they're all on pace for 1,000 yards. Boyd's on pace for a career-high 1,105 yards.

If they do have an under-the-radar guy there, it's Boyd. He's the one who's not a first-rounder and he plays the grimy position of the slot doing the dirty work. But he's also well known for coming up with crucial plays or even wondrous catches, like the whiplash one-hander grabbing a ball from behind.

And he is a two-time 1,000-yard receiver.

Because of where he plays, he's also a barometer of how defenses are going to play them.

"(Boyd) opens up everything," Chase said. "Not just for the slot, the run game. It opens it up for him, too. He doesn't run too many routes. We put him on the outside sometimes. In the slot, that opens up the offense for everybody when TB's like that. After TB scored that first one, we took them out of cover two and they started going man and (cover) three."

Boyd came to the yard thinking it could be a big day for him. Not a career day. But a good day against a banged-up Atlanta secondary ranked next-to-last in the league in passing.

Zac Taylor knew it would be a big day when Boyd caught the 60-yard touchdown two minutes in. Out of shotgun, Burrow pulled the ball out of running back Joe Mixon's belly and had plenty of time to find Boyd wide open down the middle.

"It all started with the running game," Burrow said. "From last week, the gun runs. They play two Tampa and we held the Tampa Mike with the play fake. So it all started with the run game."

Lined up on the same side with Higgins against Cover Two, the trap was set. Safety Drew Marlowe was in such a bad way, he fell down.

"The crazy thing about it is," Boyd said, "I didn't have to move. We just had our two outside guys run deep balls and the two safeties were in a bind. When they have that coverage, the outside guys, one guy has to come get me and leave Tee open or vice versa. He was kind of lost on who he was going to cover."

Talk about metaphors. Like everyone else, the Falcons clouded Chase. With virtually no pass rush, they couldn't defend the others. Or Chase.

"They played coverage based on how they would use me," Boyd said. "So I knew when they came out in looks we expected, I was kind of expecting a big game. I didn't think it was going to be that. But I was ready to go. When my number is called, I'm ready to answer the bell.

"We've got three No. 1 receivers and we're going to continue to piggyback off each other and ride each other."

It has turned into a rodeo. They scored on four straight drives to end the win in New Orleans and opened Sunday's win with four straight touchdown drives. It will be recalled that last year's similar 41-17 win in game seven in Baltimore was Burrow and Chase's coming out party with 416 and 201, yards, respectively.

They lost the next two games, but the calling card had been left. A year later, are they ready to take off again?

"One game at a time. No need to rush it," said Chase on a day the Bengals hurried history.

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