Joe Burrow is on a roll and his teammates know it.
He leads the NFL in third down passing with the help of blistering 73.8 completion percentage, he's fourth with
12 touchdowns, fifth with 1,616 yards and he's about to pass another Hall of Famer.
On Sunday against the Falcons (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's FOX 19), he'll be 85 passing yards away from reaching 9,000 in his 33rd career game and that would tie him for the third fastest of all-time with Rams quarterback Mathew Stafford and one ahead of Dolphins great Dan Marino, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
The fastest is the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, who did it in 30 games. Fellow 2020 draft classmate Justin Herbert did it in his 32nd game to tie Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner.
"We have the most ultimate confidence in him, everyone knows he's the franchise," said running back Joe Mixon of Burrow's third-down prowess. "And he's got the weapons around him to match what he does. I feel like if he wants to do it and if Zac wants to dial it up 60 times a game like we have before, he'll pick you apart."
One of those weapons is also flirting with history, Elias says. Wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who is averaging 79.2 yards per game, is 70 away from hitting 2,000 receiving yards in his 24th game.
That's shy of the record of 21 set by Bill Groman and fellow LSU alum Odell Beckham, Jr., but it would tie for third fastest with LSU teammate Justin Jefferson, not to mention Hall-of-Famers Bob Hayes and Lance Alworth.
Burrow and Chase would set the Bengals records. Carson Palmer reached 9,000 yards in 38 games A.J. Green got to 2,000 in 26 games.
It's also the third time this season Burrow tries to reach .500 as a starter. He's 15-16-1, but 13-9 the last two seasons.
BIG, BIG: The nice thing for such a young team last year winning the AFC North title is they're able to bank the experience and sense a big stretch.
Last year it was the two conference games coming out of the bye at 5-4 in an AFC logjam. When they went to Las Vegas off the bye to beat the Raiders and followed it up with a win over division rival Pittsburgh, they were 7-4 and guaranteed they'd be in it until the end.
At 3-3, they know the Nov. 13 bye is creeping up. Just three games away and two of them are at Paycor against the Falcons and Panthers with a combined 4-8 record. The 2-4 Browns are on the road on a Halloween Monday night.
"Those three games stretch, I think, will determine how our season goes," Burrow said. "We haven't talked about it. We've been focused on Atlanta and getting this one, and then we'll move on to the next one after that."
You don't have to remind Burrow how they went into last year's bye. They were 5-2 and blew a fourth-quarter lead against the Jets before the Browns drilled them at Paycor, 41-16. Neither went to the playoffs, but the Bengals did.
"You want to feel great heading into the bye week. We were 5-4 heading into the bye last year, obviously hoping to get these three wins to go 6-3," Burrow said. "Two straight losses by a lot. It was horrible.
"That bye week, you want to enjoy. So 6-3 just sounds a lot better than 5-4. When you're sitting on your couch thinking about how your season has gone so far, 6-3 sounds a lot better. "
JOEY ATHLETE: First there was the 19-yard touchdown scramble that fried the Saints blitz. Then there was one of those Houdini scrambles on third-and-three that somehow, unbelievably, turned a 15-yard loss into a first down. For the first time this year, Burrow let his hair down with his legs.
It's not so much a topic this week because of those two plays, but because he so effectively ran the run-pass options (RPOs) portion of the offense against the Saints.
"I think what can turn it into an even crazier offense is what Joey B can do with his legs. He's very underrated in that area," Mixon said. "That's what he can excel at, if you let him."
Burrow agrees people can miss it.
"I would say that. I try not to break it out too much, but when it's needed, I go out and try to make a play," Burrow said of his free-lancing. "It's just something I've been good at. I take pride in it. It's gotten better over the years. It's just a part of my game that hopefully I can do for my entire career. Maybe when I get older I can kind of manage it a little, but for now I feel pretty good at it."
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan says they definitely have to manage it now because he assumes Burrow wants to play for 20 years until he's 40. And he says that's one thing Burrow realized in the offseason. That he could put himself in better, safer positions.
He winces as he recalled Saints linebacker Demario Davis getting flagged for giving Burrow a late shot to the chin.
"If he wants to do that, which I think he does, but there's a there's a manner that you have to do it," Callahan said after Wednesday's practice. "There's a risk reward, too, when you when you take those risks and when you don't. I would have loved to see him not take that helmet to the chin that Demario Davis gave him. But sometimes that happens. He was going to throw the ball away, just a little bit late, so he takes a big shot, try to eliminate those things.
"You know, whether he was trying to intentionally take that shot or not and draw a flag, who knows? But him being smarter on when to take a risk, I think he's realized for the longevity of his career and the importance to our franchise, that you carry that as the quarterback and to put yourself in harm's way and unnecessarily is, you know, not very smart."
SHOTGUN WEDDING: In the last game and a half the Bengals have been primarily running out of the shotgun to both throw and pass and while Mixon hasn't run it as much (22 carries in the last two games), he is running it more effectively. He went into the Baltimore game averaging 2.7 yards per rush. But he's gone for 5.6 in each of the last two games.
So, no. He doesn't mind running out of the gun.
"As long as I'm touching the ball, I don't mind. I think at the end of the day, whether it's under center or whether it's in shotgun, I mean, if I got the ball in my hands like I'm making a show regardless," Mixon said. "I felt like as long as we just lock it up how we are supposed to, and even if we don't, I'm always going to make the first guy in the backfield miss, and that's just what it is."
The way Callahan sees it, they had the Bengals for 14 runs for 75 yards, but it was really 18 for 107 because they called four runs that Burrow kept and threw a quick pass. Mixon says RPOs keep the box honest.
"I think that's what's actually been benefiting us these last two to three weeks is, you know, the safeties, they want to be nosy in the run game, and they want to bring that eighth guy in the box," Mixon said. "So we make them pay when they want to do that, and I think that our receivers been doing a hell of a job. And also Joe and the guys being on the same page with the run-pass option. So as long as we're going to be balanced and doing things that we have to do to be successful and moving the chains, I think that is going to benefit us tremendously. So it's been a great thing."
But here's the key for Mixon, whether it's shotgun or under center or RPO or straight handoff.
"Getting downhill instead of going side to side," he said. "That's been a great thing for us."
INJURY UPDATE: Good news on linebacker Logan Wilson (shoulder). It's day-to-day and not week-to-week. But since he had surgery in the offseason on the shoulder, it doesn't seem like they're going to rush it. He didn't practice Wednesday. He'll have an extra day of rest for the Halloween Monday night game in Cleveland in 11 days, if they don't play him Sunday. But the Falcons are third in rushing.
It doesn't sound like backup defensive tackle Josh Tupou (calf) and defensive end Jeffrey Gunter (knee) will play after not practicing Wednesday. Right tackle La'el Collins rested his back Wednesday. Wide receivers Ja'Marr Chase (hip) and Tee Higgins (knee) went limited.
GAG CENTRAL: Both Burrow and Mixon ripped Burrow for his spin of the ball celebrating the 19-yarder because it hit his foot first. "Put it out to the side, not on you," Mixon counseled. Burrow agreed: "Didn't go very well."
Both also agreed that it was still better than Chase celebrating Sunday's winner with a flailed punt that didn't reach the stands. But, because it didn't go in, no fine.
"Saved him 15k," Burrow said.