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Bengals Notebook: Saturday Meeting Fired Up Mixon; Remember The Defense (And Celebrations)

This photo says 1,000 words.
This photo says 1,000 words.

Now he can say he can count his Bengals record on his right hand.

And that's just what Bengals running back Joe Mixon did after he scored his fifth touchdown Sunday in the 42-21 win over the Panthers at Paycor Stadium. After freezing cornerback Jaycee Horn when he jumped cut to the left edge on his 14-yard touchdown run on the first series of the third quarter, Mixon stood in the end zone and counted them out.

Then after the game someone counted out the Bengals greats that never did what Mixon did Sunday.

Corey Dillon. Rudi Johnson. Chad Johnson. A.J Green …

"Blessed, man," Mixon said. "Blessed."

It has been a tough season for Mixon. He jolted the Panthers for 153 yards on 22 carries in his first 100-yard game since he set his career high of 165 last Nov. 28 here against the Steelers. In two of the last three games he carried just eight times and he came into Sunday's game with a career-low 3.3 yards per carry average.

    "That's what we expect from Joe. He's been the same guy every single week, working hard," said quarterback Joe Burrow. "He hasn't had the production I know he wants, but today was a big breakout for him. Hopefully we can carry that momentum out of the bye week."

The Bengals go into the bye 5-4 and Mixon goes in with 585 yards, still on pace for 1,105 yards and his fourth 1,000-yard season. He said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan was a big inspiration the night before the game.

"He had a hell of a meeting on Saturday. You could just tell the hunger and everything in his eyes and we had great preparation all week," Mixon said. "But the way that Callahan was getting at us on Saturday, I just loved how he came in with an edge in that meeting and basically everything that he said. We made it happen today, so we spoke it into existence."

Callahan's big thing is one miscue or a bad play can knock the offense of schedule in games against running teams where they may not get a lot of possessions.

"He was mainly talking about us in all phases. When a run is called, we have to deliver, no matter how many carries we get," Mixon said. "And when we're in the pass game, no matter what is called, we must do whatever we can to not get bored with what the defense wants to give us. And if they're going to give us five (yards), we have to go take it and also get the yards after the catch or yards after the carry. Man, we did that today."

Mixon not only became the fifth Bengal to hit 5,000 career yards, but he now has 39 rushing TDs. He passed James Brooks and Larry Kinnebrew (37) on Sunday to move into fourth place on the list, six behind Corey Dillon.

TED TALK: After Bengals center Ted Karras helped a befuddled scribe by rescuing his tape recorder from the gathering scrum at his post-game locker, he offered Sunday's benediction.

"""It would be nice to run for 220 (yards) every week. You're not going to lose many games with that, especially with nine as your quarterback," Karras said. "So, if we can continue to do that, it's what we're going to strive to do."

It was actually 241 yards, the most Burrow has ever handed it off for in his 35 NFL starts, the most the Bengals have had in head coach Zac Taylor's 62 games and the most they've had since 2016.

"Like I always say," Karras said, "in the run game, its hat on a hat and get the ball downhill and that's what we did and that equals success in the run game.

"It's amazing. Any franchise record, that's amazing, especially a franchise like this," Karras said. "It's really special. Joe really got it going and made some great cuts in the red zone, had a big screen."

MIXON SALUTES ZAC: The Bengals mixed up the script they've been using for the past month. In the last four games they were heavy pass to run. But they built that first half lead with a balanced look of 18 non-QB runs and 23 passes.

They were still heavy shotgun. Their first 14 plays were out of shotgun and their last ten of the half were shotgun. But three of Mixon's four rushing touchdowns came from under center, as did, of course, Burrow's one-yard sneak for a touchdown.

"Zac, he stayed true and kept dialing it up, and I'm sure he believed in us, like 'We can come out here and be physical today,' and we actually did," Mixon said. "Not that we can in any other game, but the fact that he stayed with the runs and (got) us in a groove to be able to be physical, running downhill, we needed that as a whole."

Mixon finished the first half with 15 carries for 113 yards and three rushing TDs. The last player to do that in a half was Derrick Henry on Sept. 19, 2021 in the second half.

DEFENSIVE STAND: The first half was one of the great efforts in Bengals history and they were down three of their top four cornerbacks and didn't have their two top nose tackles. The 35-0 halftime lead tied for the second-largest halftime lead in team history and it hadn't been done in the 39 years they went up 38-3 on the Houston Oilers. The record of 38-0 was set 52 years ago against another defunct name, 38-0, against the Boston Patriots

The only first down the Panthers got was by penalty. Quarterback PJ Walker, off last week's 300-yard game, had nine yards passing at the half and was picked off twice. And they started the game with three straight three-and-outs.

"We knew we had a short week. We didn't practice on Wednesday. Zac did a really good job of keeping us healthy," said free safety Jessie Bates III, who had one of the picks. "Being able to communicate with players and stuff like that. I just think the guys came in with a fresh mind knowing that we were going into a bye week, as well. I know that these games are going to continue to get more important over the next several weeks."

Also coming up with a pick was linebacker Germaine Pratt when he dropped deep into coverage and came up with his first interception since he melted the Paycor Stadium crowd with the pick that sealed last year's Wild Card win. Pratt and his fellow backers were on the field a bunch with all the injuries and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo used them all with the Panthers coming off two big rushing games.

"Coach Lou called a great coverage. He kept the base (defense) out there. He knew they were going to throw the ball. So it's basically him making a great call, and I just executed the play," Pratt said.

Pratt and his fellow defenders and North Carolinians, three technique B.J. Hill and linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither, were game captains. The three top tacklers were all backers in ADG and Markus Bailey with six each and Logan Wilson with four.

Bates' interception was the last pass thrown by Walker, lifted for Bengals-killer Baker Mayfield at halftime.

"We played solid. We wanted to get that goose egg," Pratt said. "We let up points when Baker

got in — we don't need to have that."

CELEBRATIONS, CELEBRATIONS: There were so many celebrations that Mixon, the czar of celebrations, was reduced to letting Karras have the ball after one of his scores.

"Did you see my spike?" Karras asked around, sounding pretty excited for a guy with two Super Bowl rings. "What did you think of my spike?"

It surprised wide receiver Tyler Boyd Mixon was tapped out.

"At that point he was giving the ball out to Ted and other guys, letting them have fun," Boyd said. "Once (he had) the fourth or fifth one, he was kind of running out. It's surprising, because he always has something brewed up in the tank for a celebration. He played great."

Mixon started the day strong. There was a tribute to LeBron James' "Silencer," but on the first one, that other Ohio icon, Burrow, grabbed Mixon for "a snapshot."

"That happened on the fly. Literally. Burrow was (yelling) 'Joe Mix! Joe Mix!' I'm looking around and I see him and he (made a photo taking motion with his hands) and I was like 'Okay!'" Mixon said. "That's just how we've been as a team. That stuff was like how he had it last year with the chemistry and how off the fly, we can get in things like that, just so quickly with everyone on the same page. That's just something you can't teach. That's just something in you. To see Joe come out there and do something like that, it almost shocked me."

The defense had a couple of good ones, although Pratt's snow angels on a 70-dgree day was perplexing.

"I don't know what Germaine was doing with the snow angels," Bates said.

But everybody knew what Bates was doing after his interception when he led them in a great rendition of the dance line celebration in the film classic "Remember the Titans."

"Every Friday in the indoor as a defense we practice after we catch an interception and come up with a celebration," Bates said. "What do you call that? I think we had pretty good choreography."

INJURY UPDATE: Running back Chris Evans (knee) left early and safety Dax Hill (shoulder) left late. Taylor said they need to wait on scans to determine how serious.

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