If it seems like Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has been hot the last month, he has. According to Pro Football Reference, no quarterback has a better passer rating or completion percentage since he and his strained right calf found an oasis in the desert during the 34-20 win in Arizona on Oct. 8.
In those four games, Burrow has rung up a 111.2 passer rating and completed 75.8 percent of his passes. And, only the Lions' Jared Goff has thrown for more yards (12) than any quarterback who has played four games in that stretch.
"He's playing football at a really high level right now," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan Monday afternoon as the coaches continued to deconstruct the 24-18 win over the Bills at Sunday night here at Paycor Stadium.
He's even hotter than the marvelous rookie quarterback who opposes him this Sunday at Paycor (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12), when the Texans' C.J. Stroud comes in fresh off his rookie-record 455-yard game against Tampa Bay. Stroud's rating since Oct. 8 is 105.5, tied with the Cowboys' Dak Prescott, behind only Burrow, and ahead of Kirk Cousins (103.2), Patrick Mahomes (100.2), and Tua Tagovailoa (100).
Burrow's rounded off completion percentage of 76 in that stretch is ahead of the second-place Mahomes' 71.7. On Sunday night Burrow followed up his 88% against the 49ers when he darted the Bills on 70.4%, hitting 31 of 44 passes for a season-high 348 yards.
"Hard to play much better. Truthfully, he was fantastic Tough game from their defense," Callahan said. "They did a really nice job varying the looks, disguising the coverages … They made it challenging on him and it didn't really seem to faze him at the end of the day.
"Just to see him handle that in his traditionally calm and cool collected way, it was pretty awesome. But he played about as good a game as you can play. (If not for) two batted balls, he was going to be over 80% again, which is pretty remarkable."
Sunday's play they put up on the bord to review Monday was the last big one, a 32-yard shot to wide receiver Tyler Boyd on the first snap after the Bills cut the lead to 24-18 with 3:32 left in the game. Suddenly in a one-score game, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor went aggressive.
As they did 30% of the time Sunday, the Bills blitzed, up from their normal 21% during the season but comparable to the 33% they brought it in last year's AFC Divisional. Working against a six-man pressure, Burrow knew he had one-on-one coverage as running back Joe Mixon fought off linebacker Dorian Willliams, right tackle Jonah Williams jumped linebacker Tyrel Dodson and left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and left guard Cordell Volson negotiated a stunt between edge A.J. Epenesa and tackle Ed Oliver. Burrow got it out just in time with Boyd clearly beating slot cornerback Taron Johnson.
"One of the things that we stressed is that if we protect and Joe has man coverage, like we're going to have, they're going to have a hard time covering us," Callahan said. "It was a great, great rep of protection by Mixon, great job up front on a play that we've run from day one, an install play. So we know it well. Joe just had time and TB won the route and he threw a great ball.
"It was an aggressive call in the moment, but we needed to be aggressive there because we didn't want to give the ball back to those guys. And we're trying to gain some field position on top of it."
Point taken. According to Pro Football Focus, Burrow hit 10 of 14 for 158 yards against the blitz.
CHASE SORE: It's too soon to fire out a multiple bell flash, which is how the old wire services would alert editors to a major bulletin. But, yes, Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase was still sore Monday after he landed on his back leaping for an incomplete deep ball in the middle of the third quarter. He fought through it and caught his longest ball of the day, also a 32-yarder, in the fourth quarter.
But on Monday he seemed uncertain about his status for Houston and Taylor said it was day-to-day.
"I don't know yet. We'll find out (Tuesday)," Chase said of how hard he'd be able to go in practice this week. " "Pretty sore just moving around …It got worse as the game went on."
The injuries aren't related, but the Bengals went 3-1 last season when Chase suffered a hairline hip fracture that took five weeks and four games to heal. In that stretch, wide receiver Tee Higgins had two of last season's four 100-yard games, including a season -high 148 in the win at Pittsburgh.
Against the Bills, they were able to keep the ball more than 36 minutes even though Callahan said Buffalo "was hell-bent," on denying Chase 10 catches, saying, 'Let's make Tee prove it and see what these other guys can do.' … There was almost always a safety near (Chase), over him, cheated to him at almost every passing down in the game. "
So Higgins had his season-best 110 yards and the tight ends had a break-out night with two touchdowns, ten catches, and 101 yards.
"That's really been our M.O. with skill positions for the last three years. Ja'Marr missed time last year and Tee stepped up in a big way," Callahan said. "And (wide receiver) Trenton Irwin stepped up when Tee's been out. And our tight ends played well last night. That was good to see. We've run the ball physically. I wouldn't say we've run the ball for a ton of yards, but we've run it physical, so those things all give me a ton of confidence that whatever we need to replace in production, step up for a game, I feel great about, about where we're at."
And it's too soon to jump to conclusions.
"Just be a good teammate, support my guys," said Chase, who had four catches for 41 yards Sunday. "Tee stepped up. That's what we wanted right there. All I can do is protect the team and get healthy."
JOLTIN' JOE: There is a sense that Zac Taylor is more conservative this year than last when it comes to fourth down and managing the game. Taylor said Monday he's not sure about that because it's not an overall philosophy driving it, but rather each situation dictated by that week's opponent and state of his own team that day.
(The Bengals are 3-for-9 on fourth down this year, 2-for-8 last year after eight games.)
When you've got a special teams unit that went into Sunday's game ranked eighth in the NFL and a defense that hasn't allowed more than 20 points in a month with the NFL's 10th best red-zone defenders going against the league's fifth best offense, it's easier to pass up a 60-yard field goal or punt away a fourth-and-two from the Bills 48 leading, 14-7, early in the second quarter.
"It feels like there were a lot more decisions last night than we've had overall," Taylor said Monday. "It hasn't been that many decisions over the course of the year that come down to that fringe area we were in. Maybe I feel like there have been fewer moments than years past."
But Callahan is sure that Mixon's game-ending five-yard freeze job on the great Von Miller on third-and three from the Bills 36 on the first play after the two-minute warning saved them from a severe angst of a decision. What if Mixon didn't get away from Miller and was dropped where he avoided the tackle? At the 41? That would have been a 59-yard field goal for Evan McPherson. Even if he was stopped a yard short at the 34, it's a 52-yarder and everyone knows what Allen did in 44 seconds in the playoffs two years ago in Kansas City.
"That decision just gets to float off into oblivion and we don't have to talk about it," Callahan said. "That was a big moment. Yeah, that was a big moment."
Mixon is used to big moments. Remember what he did himself in the playoffs in Kansas City two years ago when he owned overtime of the AFC title game,
"I thought that was an awesome moment to see his attention to the situation and knowing how important it was to stay in bounds without knowing that they had no timeouts, that if he got the first down the game was over," Callahan said. "He didn't know that. He just knows that 'I'm in a four-minute (offense) and I'm not trying to get out. I've got to try to keep this clock running.' … And was so disappointed he went out-of-bounds. Watch him after the play. It was just great to see his attention to that situation and how important it was that he was trying to do the right thing at the right time.
"We have a ton of confidence that when the time comes we have to get two, three yards, he's going to find a way to get it … For Joe to be able to know we're going to give him the ball, and, basically we need you to get three plays to get us 10, and for him to do that was pretty awesome. We're always going to continue to lean on him in those spots."
BROTHERLY SHOVE: After watching the tight ends have their best game of the season, Taylor gave a game ball to position coach James Casey. Casey a former NFL tight end coaching at the University of Houston in 2019, was one of Taylor's first hires when he got the Bengals job.
On Monday, Taylor revealed how a connection with his brother, current Jaguars offensive coordinator Press Taylor, also made it the smoothest hire.
"My brother coached in Philly when James played there, and I was looking if I got the opportunity, I needed a tight end coach, and I was asking people. My brother said just hire James Casey, and I said that I don't really know him and he said, just hire him. 'Trust me, just hire him.' I remember calling James and I just said, 'Hey, if I get this opportunity somewhere, do you want to be the tight ends coach?' And he just said yes."
More than a month later, Taylor called him back with a firm offer. Same answer. That was it. That was the interview.
"I knew his body of work as a player. I knew who he learned from," Taylor said. "He wasn't the starting tight end … he was probably third or fourth. And when you're the third or fourth, you've got to know all the details in order to survive at a place where they used a ton (of multiple tight ends) personnel. I knew that he would be on top of it. He played for my brother, so my brother knew what type of person or player he is, and I haven't ever been disappointed ever in James."