Bengals center Ted Karras, after his offensive line had kept Joe Burrow so stunningly clean Sunday against the Chiefs' top ten pass rush that he wasn't touched until the next-to-last snap, caught a glimpse of his quarterback walking into the media room in an ice-cold all-burgundy suit.
"WoooOoooh," Karras ogled. "B—u---u—rgandy!"
After Burrow bested NFL passing yards and touchdown leader Patrick Mahomes for the third time in 2022 with another epiphany of efficiency on 81 percent passing that pierced Kansas City for 286 yards and two touchdowns, the MVP derby turned a shade of orange and black. With the Bengals winners of four straight on their longest skein since the 8-0 start in 2015 and now 8-4 and holding the first Wild Card berth, the only thing missing in the Paycor Stadium home locker room was an MVP chant.
"He's the best quarterback in the league because we beat everybody they say is the best," said slot receiver Tyler Boyd after the Bengals drained the third largest crowd in Paycor Stadium history (66,243) with another raucous and deafening fourth-quarter comeback to beat Mahomes. "Just look at his numbers. He's super productive. He's poised. He always makes the right reads. He's always getting us in the right play. I've never seen anybody like him."
Burrow won his 20th NFL regular-season game Sunday and like any esteemed pitching ace he passed around the credit. A quarter of his wins have been of the fourth quarter comeback variety and on Sunday his 25 of 31 passing has got him back to a 69.1 completion percentage as he bids to become the first active quarterback with multiple 70-percent seasons after leading the league last year.
"It means we have a great team," Burrow said of the mastery of Mahomes. "Our defense steps up in big spots, gets stops and turnovers when we need it. We've been able to come up in some big spots on offense as well."
There is some MVP mojo around these guys that some would call a confident playoff swag.
"We're just really dialed in. We know the mistakes we made, the corrections we have to make," Burrow said. "There's a lot of celebration in the locker room, just like every win, but everybody knows there's a lot of room to improve and we have the guys to go do that."
As Bengals founder Paul Brown liked to say, act like you've been there before and his striped descendants did exactly that Sunday:
_In beating a quarterback with 26 straight wins in November and December and hadn't lost in December in four years, Burrow won his third straight December game and lifted his December and January record to 7-2 with seven straight, including playoffs.
"Never panic. Not with Joe Burrow on that sideline," cornerback Eli Apple said. "He's got to be the leading (MVP) candidate, right? He just beat the No. 1 guy."
_It was Apple who made the game-changing play in the AFC title game in Kansas City back on Jan. 30 when he stoned wide receiver Tyreek Hill on the goal line and time ran out on the Chiefs before they could kick a field goal. It looked like old friend Carlos Dunlap had channeled that the other way for the Chiefs with 55 seconds left in the first half Sunday when on fourth down from the KC 3 he dumped wide receiver Trent Taylor on a jet sweep for a three-yard loss and the Bengals couldn't expand a 14-10 halftime lead.
But they kept their heads and mojo.
"We have players that have been in these spots before. Whether it's college or last year, we've accumulated players that it matters to them," Burrow said. "The character of these guys is what wins games down the stretch in December and January. They've done a great job of finding those guys; we have one of the best locker rooms I've been around. You feel the energy in the room every single day. We have the utmost faith in one another. If one unit isn't playing great, the other one will step up and make plays."
_It was linebacker Germaine Pratt who brought down the second largest Paycor house back in January in the Wild Card Game when his goal-line interception in the last seconds preserved the win over the Raiders. There he was, doing it again early in the fourth quarter Sunday with his club down, 24-20, and the Chiefs driving for the kill. When he ripped the ball out of Travis Kelce's hand at the midfield logo for the perennial Pro Bowl tight end's only fumble this season, the game turned and never went back.
All week the Bengals defenders had been asking each other, "Have you chucked No. 87 (Kelce) today?" Pratt did Sunday with the clock ticking past 14 minutes.
"In our room we say, 'Make them play left-handed.' Take away their main guy, and make everybody else beat you, and we did that well," said slot cornerback Mike Hilton. "Even when he did make a big catch, Germaine made a hell of a play, stripped him, which was a game changer. It's just credit to everybody doing their job and making a play when they have the chance."
_Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase had torched the Chiefs here last year in the regular season with an NFL rookie-record 266 yards and then came back in the AFC title game to score the red-zone touchdown that allowed them to tie it. On Sunday he calmed Bengaldom with a vintage outing in his first time back since a hairline hip fracture wiped out the last four games. He caught a like-he-never-left seven balls for 97 yards that included a beat-the-blitz 40-yarder that victimized one of the Chiefs' many rookie cornerbacks.
"They played me a little bit differently," Chase said. "They put the safety all the way down on my side a little more … playing outside leverage a majority of the time, just getting the safety get over there."
So what else is new? Chase played 59 snaps, three more than he did the day he got hurt in New Orleans and four fewer than when he aggravated it the next week. He had been playing 96 percent of the snaps this year and on Sunday it was 87.
"As soon as I got cleared last week," said Chase, when asked when he knew during the game he was back.
He saluted guys like Trenton Irwin and Stanley Morgan, Jr., who took snaps for him when he was gassed.
"Out of shape. Like crazy, oh my God! I was so tired out there. It was good to be back, though," Chase said. "T.I. and Stan were doing a great job getting me out of the game when they saw me tired. Zac (Taylor) was doing a good job on the play calls and stuff too, so it was all-around good."
_Both Chase and his tag-team partner Tee Higgins had huge third-down catches in the last three minutes that killed the clock with them basically taking a knee for the fourth straight game. Chase danced on third-and-five and what amounted to the play of the game with 72 seconds left on third-and 11, Burrow stepped up and unleashed an ungodly huge throw as he was getting hit by edge Mike Danna as he delivered it through a mail slot on a slant post on which Higgins made an equally crazy catch with rookie cornerback Joshua Williams draped all over him. In classic Higgins fashion, he bludgeoned the ball away for 14 yards and the game.
Higgins also had time to remind Chase not to go out of bounds after he did on a first-down catch.
"Great teammate," Chase said.
Higgins has been there before, too. Burrow remembers throwing him a similar slant in the AFC title game. And it was Higgins who had a 100-yard Super Bowl. Heck, Burrow threw him the same kind of pass earlier in the day, a massive 12-yard touchdown slant on third-and-eight where he again wrestled the ball from Joshua Williams and then ran over safety Juan Thornhill. The last third-down play-call caught Higgins' attention.
"I thought we were going to run it,' Higgins said. "But we're going for the win. We trust in each other. Big-body receiver, I came down with the ball."
In Burrow's mind, there was only one call with 72 seconds left. They couldn't take a field goal.
"You know the quarterback they have over there. We can't settle for a field goal there or else he goes down the field and wins the game," Burrow said. "We had to find a way to get that conversion, and Tee Higgins made a big play, just like he did in the AFC Championship. It was the same route and an unbelievable catch."
_Boyd has been there, too. In his seventh year, longer than anybody on the Bengals and no one is more reliable. When he dropped a wide-open third-down red-zone touchdown in the middle of the third quarter, Burrow's stunned look said it all.
"I don't drop too many passes," said Boyd, who didn't drop one last year until the Super Bowl. "Couldn't have come at worst time. Butt naked (open). I know the kind of caliber of player I am. Get ready for the next play. At the end of the day, I have faith in my teammates to make up for me. They continue to fight for me and we fight for one another."
Boyd got his shot on the winning touchdown drive, setting it up with one of his vintage deals and how many times have we seen Boyd do this? On third-and four at the KC 14, he worked the middle and despite getting bracketed by the safety Thornhill and inside backer Nick Bolton, he converted.
"I kind of felt the pressure. Joe just got me the ball quick because he knew they were bracketing me," Boyd said. "The safety was on the outside and I just tried to freeze (Bolton) to create that little window where Joe could just throw it and I could just knife up for the first down."
Right guard Alex Cappa, who won a Super Bowl with Tom Brady, was asked about MVP.
"He's playing as well as anybody out there, right?" Cappa said.
Burrow would tell you the Bengals are playing as well as any team after surviving some pockets of turbulence.
"That's what we do," said nose tackle D.J. Reader.