"The Odd Couple," backfield of chatty Joe Mixon and stoic Samaje Perine took up residence in the NFL playoff chase Wednesday when Mixon practiced full for the first time Wednesday since suffering a concussion in the first half of the Nov. 20 win in Pittsburgh as the Bengals began tuning for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the Browns at Paycor Stadium.
Since Mixon went down, Perine has caught three touchdowns in one game and rushed for 106 yards in the other. But there's no bell cow controversy here
The Bengals coaches took time to remind everyone before and after practice that the last time Mixon played a full game he scored a Bengals-record five touchdowns in the Nov. 6 rout of Carolina that started the four-game winning streak while ripping off 211 yards from scrimmage.
"Joe Mixon is our starting running back. In the last (full) game he played in, he had five touchdowns, tremendous effort," said head coach Zac Taylor. "And Samaje has done a really good job filling in. And so, to have those two guys that you've got a lot of confidence in, whatever the moment calls for, we think that's very valuable to have, especially going into this late season stretch, and hopefully beyond that."
The Bengals have five games left, but offensive coordinator Brian Callahan knows there could be more than that since they played six games in January and February last year.
"That's not to say that (Perine's) role hasn't been huge for us all year in the third down roles and the protection roles. He's been fantastic and he doesn't get enough notice or recognition for them," Callahan said. "But now that you see him getting more touches and more carries, he's shown how capable of a player that he is. But we're going to use all the guys we've got. We're going to need all of them. There's still a lot of football to be played. We've got five weeks left, plus hopefully a handful of games in January, February. It's physical and we're going to need both those guys to play well."
There may be no starting controversy but there are enough dramatic possibilities to make a movie. Mixon, the personable Bay Area standout, and Perine, the strong, silent Texan, first met at the 2014 Oklahoma spring game as high school recruits and they've been friends ever since.
No matter what. Whether Perine was backing him up in Norman or here. Or whether Perine was racing for an NCAA record 427 yards against Kansas during that freshman season Mixon watched.
"A very outgoing guy. A lot different than what I was. What I am," Perine said before practice. "That seemed to work for us. I guess you could say opposites attract. He's the outgoing one. He's the one that will talk to you and I'll just be sitting back and listening. It works great. He gets all the attention and I (don't)."
His efforts have brought the unwanted attention, but they've also thrown light on the Bengals' emerging running game fueled by a revamped offensive line now finding its footing. After the Halloween loss in Cleveland, the Bengals were at 3.5 yards per rush. In the last four games, they are 4.5 and the credit is going to fewer zone runs and more power, downhill plays.
Just look at the Twitter shot of Perine and the offensive line wearing its "Angry Runs" T-Shirt. Perine says he's trying to get at least four or five yards a shot and you know the O-line loves that.
"It fits what our O-line does," Perine said. "They're great off the ball opening up run lanes and just downhill running. I feel like that's how our O-line is built and it's working, so keep doing it."
Those who have been watching Perine since he arrived in 2020 can't be surprised. He's got 4.6 yards per on his 192 carries as a Bengal and his 41-yard catch-and-run touchdown off a screen pass turned around last year's AFC championship game.
"You talk about consistency, so it's so critical to have guys like that on the team that whatever you ask them to do, you know that they're going to understand what you're asking, and they're going to do it to their full potential," Taylor said. "Whether it's in special teams, protection, or catching the football in the backfield, we've been getting first and second down carries by Samaje. You're always getting his best in that consistency and that's what we appreciate."
What Perine doesn't appreciate is small talk. Make that any kind of talk. Here's a guy, a self-acknowledged "introvert," that can't stand the limelight, and in one of his first games as a freshman he smashed the NCAA rushing record that he's been holding for eight years.
"They had me sitting in the interview, but it was in the auditorium full of cameras and people. It was awful," Perine said. "(The attention for the record) never really went away until I left (two years later). We live in the Norman area in the offseason. They're used to seeing me around town for the most part. Unless like last year when we made the run to the Super Bowl. They say hi and wave. That's fine. If one person asks for a picture, everybody wants one. Try to avoid that at all cost."
So far, it's been a picture-perfect season for Perine. "The Odd Couple," could turn it into a movie ending.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase says, yes, he's even a bit surprised how he came back Sunday against the Chiefs after being sidelined for four games with a hairline hip fracture.
"I didn't really know what to expect," Chase said of his 97-yard day. "I was just happy to be out there. I said that in the second quarter."
Chase was surprised to hear quarterback Joe Burrow say his vision is improving. Chase remembers talking to safety Tyrann Mathieu after the AFC title game and how he said when the Chiefs played "a little two-man buzz," how Burrow would look off the safety and run it: "This isn't something new for Joe. He's been doing it. He's just doing it with ease now." …
Chase took the blame for Browns cornerback Denzel Ward's 99-yard pick six that ended the first drive of last year's game at Paycor.
"I just ran a (crappy) route," said Chase, who didn't excuse the rookie Ja'Marr. "It was a horrible route by me. It didn't sell anything. It was a crappy route. I don't believe in rookie … whatever y'all fill in the blanks on rookie stuff. Just sell slant more. Give more eyes. Just a lot more sell on it. I just didn't sell anything. I just made like one, two cuts and tried to run out of it. It was not a good route." …
Running backs coach Justin Hill must be doing a heck of a job. Not only is getting supreme production from all four guys in his room, he's in charge of the weekly ball security video and only three teams (Dallas, Minnesota, Las Vegas) have fewer fumbles than the Bengals' four.
Hill didn't have to show one Wednesday. He got pre-empted by Taylor and his own video. But when Hill does get back up there, he says he'll definitely have the clip of Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt making the key turnover on Sunday when he wrenched the ball from All-Universe tight end Travis Kelce.
Among the teaching points: Hill says he'll remind his guys to never think the play is over or that a player is out of a play because Pratt showed what can happen if they do. And, he'll note that Kelce had one arm around the ball.
"Need two," Hill said. "Have to wrap it up."