Our window (unlike Joe Burrow's) is closing on handing out the Bengals.com 2022 awards. So we beat Saturday's Senior Bowl kickoff and take the envelope.
He's one of the five finalists for the NFL MVP award and a no-brainer here. And while he had a lot of beautiful numbers (NFL's best passer rating in the red zone, second in the league with a Bengals-record 35 touchdown passes, second in completion percentage, fifth in overall passer rating) it's because of one solitary stat.
It's the only way you can judge a quarterback and in 2022 he became the first Bengals quarterback to win-back-to-back division titles, reach back-to-back AFC title games and win ten straight.
With Burrow leading the way, they beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick on the road on successive Sundays. They won an indoor October Homecoming in New Orleans at the end on his 60-yard touchdown pass to Ja'Marr Chase and they won a January playoff rout in a Buffalo snowstorm when Joey Frost pierced the flakes with a 101.9 passer rating. They swept the AFC East, the NFC South, beat the Ravens twice in seven days at home and won another playoff game on the road.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
WRS JA'MARR CHASE AND TEE HIGGINS
The MVP has two No. 1 receivers and they both made big grabs all year long all the way to the end in last Sunday's AFC title game in Kansas City. Higgins tied the game early in the third quarter, snaring a leaping third-down catch from a nest of hands for a 27-yard touchdown. Chase knifed through two defenders for a 35-yard catch on fourth-and-six on the first play of the fourth quarter to set up another tying touchdown.
So what else was new? Chase missed four games and still got 1,046 yards, thanks to his career 86.2 yards per game that will be good for third all-time when he qualifies with 32 more catches. He had at least seven catches in nine straight games, tied for the fourth longest such streak within a season since 1970 and that includes playoffs. His longest catch of the season may have been the biggest, that 60-yard-make-em-miss-catch-and-run down the left sideline in his hometown of New Orleans with two minutes left that turned a deficit into a win.
Clutch? How about Higgins' grown-man catch over the middle on third down that salted away the Dec. 4 win over the Chiefs as the clock ticked? What about Big Game Tee, with back-to-back 100-yarders in the grind jobs in Pittsburgh and Tennessee, or the 128-yard Mr. Freeze in the 17 degrees of Foxboro?
Like Chase, he went back-to-back for 1,000-yard seasons and gives something for his running mate to grab. Higgins and A.J. Green are the only Bengals to catch 3,000 yards in their first three seasons.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
DE SAM HUBBARD
A lot of candidates here and how could you go wrong anywhere up the middle of a Bengals defense that finished sixth in points allowed and seventh in rushing with DJ Reader at nose tackle, linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson and safeties Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell? Or on the edge with Hubbard Bash Brother Trey Hendrickson?
Tough call, but we go with Hubbard because of his diversity as a rusher and dropper and how he plays the run. The ability to do it all is a hallmark of defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's Staten Island Stew scheme and he did it with a Captain's 'C."
Among NFL defensive ends in 2022, Hubbard, according to Pro Football Reference, is in the top ten in the categories of snaps, combined tackles, solo tackles, tackles for loss and quarterback takedowns. That patch with a "C,' on it should also have a 'V,' for versatility.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
LB MARKUS BAILEY
Pro Football Focus had Bailey tied for the fifth most tackles in the NFL kicking game and one of the biggest of the season. Down 17-3 on the first series of the second half in Tampa Bay, Bailey smothered old friend Giovani Bernard on the Bucs' botched punt at the Tampa 16 and the Bengals were off, scoring 31 straight points in the half for their sixth straight win.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
LG CORDELL VOLSON
Volson, a fourth-round pick, took more snaps than any guard in the NFL this past season in becoming the Bengals' first rookie guard to start all 16 games since first-rounder Kevin Zeitler did it on the right side 10 years ago and second-rounder Eric Steinbach did it on the left side 19 years ago.
He did have eight penalties in 19 games, but he didn't have any from week eight until week 16. He also had holding calls in weeks three and four, but didn't get called for a hold again until the AFC title game. During the 10-game winning streak, Volson helped the line hold up against five top12 defenses in a season PFF says the Bengals starting guards slashed their sacks allowed from 22 in 2021 to eight in 2022.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
CB CAM TAYLOR-BRITT
Take a look at his No. 29. The same as Leon Hall, the last rookie cornerback to have the kind of impact Taylor-Britt had this season as a 2007 first-round pick. CTB, a second-rounder, was a late bloomer. Surgery on his core early in training camp wiped out his preseason and he didn't make his debut until the seventh game of the season.
Then the next week the honeymoon was over when No. 1 cornerback Chidobe Awuzie went down with a season-ending knee injury in the loss in Cleveland. Taylor-Britt started the rest of the way and the defense didn't buckle while the Bengals won ten straight. His aggressive downhill play was as advertised, finishing just five tackles shy of having the most tackles by a Bengals cornerback despite the late start. He announced himself in his fifth NFL game when he chased down NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry to end a 69-yard rumble off a screen by jackhammering the ball from the 250-pounder.
His coverage got better the more he played, capping it off with a huge postseason he allowed four catches on 13 targets. He missed a pick that may have changed the AFC title game, but PFF graded him the Bengals' top coverage player in that one, as well as the week before in the AFC Divisional in Buffalo, where he gave up three catches for 20 yards on six targets, didn't yield a first down and ended a drive breaking up playoff monster Gabriel Davis before sealing the game with an interception that allowed Burrow to kneel it down.
COMEBACK PLAYER IN THE YEAR
NT DJ READER
Probably would have been defensive player of the year if he didn't miss six games with a knee injury. But he got back just in time for the second half of the season with a stark reminder how much he means to this team emotionally and physically and why he is the best nose tackle in the game.
Another guy wearing the "C," patch, Reader plugged the middle and was a major factor in making most teams offenses one dimensional. In the final ten games of the season, the Bengals allowed teams to rush for 100 yards four times and they went 9-1. In one stretch he was out they gave up at least 107 yards on the ground in four straight games while allowing an average of 166 yards and going 2-2.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
DE JOSEPH OSSAI
The more conventional Comeback award. Ossai missed his entire rookie season with surgeries on his wrist and knee and in his second season was extremely productive in a backup pass rushing role both inside and on the edge, particularly in key moments. He had 3.5 sacks (one was a characteristic hustle shoestring tackle of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes that blew up a winning drive and ended up as Kansas City's last offensive snap of the night in the Dec. 4 27-24 win) and 10 quarterback hits, the same, as Pro Football Reference has it, as overall No. 1 pick Travon Walker. Plus, he scored the only defensive TD of the year when he fell on a Trey Hendrickson sack-strip in the end zone in the last minute of the first half in the regular-season finale that flipped The Coin Game.
Ossai was also playing the game of his life last Sunday in the AFC title game in Kansas City. He had a career-high five tackles, one of them for a loss, plus two hits on Mahomes and on second-and-four with 17 seconds left lined up inside and knocked down a pass.
That set up a third-and-four, which Mahomes converted, turning up field as a running back to get the fifth yard as he went out of bounds. Ossai was flagged for roughing when he couldn't pull up on a dead run and collided with Mahomes as he went out of bounds. A tough call in a 20-20 game and a Super Bowl trip on the line. There was only time to walk off the 15 yards and kick the winning field goal as Ossai wept on the bench.
Debatable? Probably. But there seems to be no debate that Ossai, the third-rounder from Texas, looks be to another keeper from a 2021 draft that had several solid AFC title outings. Joining Ossai Sunday were Chase, second-rounder Jackson Carman at left tackle, fourth-rounder Cam Sample on the D-line and fifth-round kicker Evan McPherson.
ASSISTANT COACHES OF THE YEAR
DL MARION HOBBY AND OL FRANK POLLACK
The Bengals got here in the trenches.
Hobby had the golden touch rotating his guys through so the starters had plenty of gas left in the fourth quarter. Eight of his players worked at least a quarter of the snaps and when Reader and his backup at nose, Josh Tupou, were out for a month, he worked magic inside with rookie Zach Carter and waiver-wire pickup Jay Tufele. The Bengals were relentless up front, finishing seventh against the run while racking up the fifth most QB hits.
The Bengals revamped their offensive line last offseason with four new starters, three via free agency and Volson. When they gave up 13 sacks in the 0-2 start, Pollack put their heads down and they found their footing.
In the 10-game winning streak, they didn't give up more than two sacks until the ninth game. That was when they lost their third starter in as many weeks, giving them three new O-line starters in the AFC Divisional in Buffalo. Pollack got his new unit up and running in time to allow just one sack and rush for 172 yards.
The roll ended the next week with five sacks allowed in Kansas City, but Pollack heads into Opening Day with that intact interior of the line that made life easier for Burrow much of last season.
PLAY OF THE YEAR
Hubbard's 98-yard fumble return with 13:30 left in the Wild Card Game that broke the 17-17 tie with Baltimore on a stunning 14-point swing, is at least the Bengals Play of the Year and probably The Play in the 55 seasons of the franchise.
QUOTE OF THE YEAR
QB JOE BURROW ON CHAMPIONSHIP WINDOWS:
""The window's my whole career. And everybody we have in that locker room, all the coaches we have, things are going to change year-to-year, but our window is always open."