While running back Joe Mixon made history Sunday at Paycor Stadium with a franchise-record five touchdowns, the Bengals repeated history in Sunday's 42-21 walk-over against the Panthers and go into the bye at 5-4 like they did last season.
The Bengals rushed for five touchdowns for the first time since 1988 and Mixon blasted away for four of them while adding a 12-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Joe Burrow with four seconds left in a dominating first half the Bengals took a 35-0 half-time lead.
The record came early in the second half on a lovely 14-yard jump cut on the left edge that froze cornerback Jaycee Horn and provided a flourishing finish to an all-purpose 211 yards.
Burrow's day was done by late in the third quarter, after he used the rejuvenated run game to carve Carolina on 22 of 28 passing for 206 yards and a 109.2 passer rating. Mixon logged his first 100-yard day in nearly a year with 153 yards on 22 carries to spearhead the Bengals' 241-yard rush day, the most in a game during the four years of head coach Zac Taylor and the most by the Bengals in six years.
The win did have a cost. Running back Chris Evans (knee) left early and rookie safety Dax Hill (shoulder) left an already decimated secondary in the third quarter and their availability is pending scans.
When Mixon shot around the right edge for a one-yard touchdown with 3:45 left in the half, it was his third touchdown of the day and gave him a season-high 88 yards while the Bengals were ringing up 268 yards to the Panthers' 15.
For a defense playing without three of its top four cornerbacks and two top nose tackles, it was a hellacious stand. The only first down they allowed in the first half came on a penalty on rookie cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt. That was the first and only target in the half to wide receiver D.J. Moore, coming off a 152-yard day.
Big plays included cornerback Eli Apple separating wide receiver Terrace Marshall, Jr., from quarterback PJ Walker's high pass, linebacker Germaine Pratt dropping deep into a zone a la Logan Wilson to make a safety-like interception and Jessie Bates III actually making a free safety interception when he roamed in centerfield to pick off Walker's overthrow . It was the first interception of the season for Pratt and the second for Bates.
A half the Bengals stifled the Panthers on 32 yards (nine passing) fittingly ended when Jalen Davis, pressed into service as the injured Mike Hilton's replacement at slot corner, came up with his first NFL fumble recovery on a squibbed kickoff.
But it was Joe Mixon Day and it started when he became the first Bengal to ever score four touchdowns in a half, tying the franchise record for a game that was last set by wide receiver Marvin Jones against the Jets in 2013.
Mixon, who last rushed for 100 when he ran for a career-high 165 against the Steelers last Nov. 28, took over right away when he accounted for 47 of the 90 yards for a touchdown on a crisp, balanced opening drive of 5:18 consisting of the dime-throwing Burrow's five-for-five passing for 69 yards and four runs for 21 more, providing a harbinger of their most diverse attack of the season.
The drive included Mixon's longest play of his season, a 35-yard ramble on a well-blocked screen set up by right guard Alex Cappa screaming into space. Mixon then jetted through the attempted tackles of linebacker Shaq Thompson and Horn.
Mixon capped the drive when he became the fifth Bengal to reach 5,000 career rushing yards on a two-yard sweep running behind left tackle Jonah Williams.
The Bengals went up 14-0 on a very unique drive that flashed that run-pass balance featuring two jet sweeps by slot receiver Trent Taylor, each for nine yards, and Taylor added a leaping catch for nine more. He had come into the day with one touch, a catch for five yards. Burrow then finished it off from the 1 with his fourth rushing touchdown of the season in the first Bengals game they ever had four rushing touchdowns in a half.
But it was Mixon again with the big play on his longest run since the opener, a 29-yard run set up on Cappa and right tackle La'el Collins blocking down, Jonah Williams pulling right and Mixon blowing through them with help from tight end Mitchell Wilcox picking off Panthers on the perimeter
The Bengals use the three-receiver set about as much as any team, but it appeared on Sunday they didn't mind using some multi-tight end looks. They also got under center a little more than usual and that's what it looked like when they went up 21-0.
Mixon touched it the last three times in that drive. He caught the first one for eight yards from Burrow out of the shot gun and then Burrow kept the same personnel on the field and went under center with Wilcox and tight end Devin Asiasi for the next two snaps that Mixon took over right tackle, the last one a three-yard touchdown off of Wilcox and Asiasi.
Bates' interception set up the final touchdown of the half and Mixon's fourth and it was a scrambling beauty between the two Joes. On third-and-12 from the Panthers 10, Burrow spun out of trouble and extended the play toward the right sideline as he watched Mixon spin around cornerback C.J. Henderson before jamming it into him for a 12-yard touchdown with four seconds left in the half.
It was Burrow's lone touchdown pass of the day as he ended the half 18 of 23 for 169 yards while Mixon ran 15 times for 113 yards and caught four balls for 58.