No one knows how long it is going to take for Joe Mixon to get back and be the Bengals' "bell cow" running back, courtesy of his 90 yards per that helped the Bengals get off to a 2-0 start.
But when he does return he's going to have some skins on the wall for head coach Marvin Lewis and his teammates to respect as a gamer. His fourth-quarter performance last Thursday night that helped fend off the Ravens in prime time on a knee that went under the knife less than 48 hours later is taking its place in Bengals lore.
"It was just me trying to send a message. It doesn't matter how hurt you are," Mixon said before Wednesday's practice. "Physical pain, you know, Marvin talks about grinding everything out. I knew I was in pain. They knew I was in pain. But like I said, when I knew I was able to go, I just said it's going to be really bad, or it can't get much worse than this. We were able to come out there that last drive and seal the deal. The defense did a great job also with getting us the ball back and we were able to go out there and seal it on offense. Just going out there, being tough and being able to finish and grind through those moments, it kind of felt like something good in the making. We'll just see these next couple weeks."
They're hoping it only takes a couple of weeks. It's going on five days since Bengals head physician Marc Galloway performed the hour-long arthroscopy to repair what Mixon called "a slightly torn meniscus." Indications are the procedure went so smoothly the Bengals can't remember a scope coming back so cleanly. But even though he was in and out, it was still traumatic for Mixon since it was his first surgery.
"I just thank God I'm here. He's the reason I'm here," said Mixon, who left his return to "comfortability."
"Just however comfortable I feel. As soon as I feel any type of comfortability, in terms of me going out there and able to run full speed and cut a dime, that's definitely when I'll be out there. And even if I did have a little pain, I'll definitely still be out there at that point when I'm comfortable. (Change of direction) The comfortability with doing that, being able to run full speed and play without that being in my mind. Once I'm able to do that, then I'll definitely be out there. No questions."
As the Bengals scrambled to get Thomas Rawls to the roster and waive injured Tra Carson, Mixon was in the weight room lifting and riding the bike after the training staff dissuaded him from running just yet.
"I definitely feel a lot better now that I got the surgery and things like that," Mixon said. "Going to take it one day at a time and that's all I can do. There's not a rush in the process. It's all about how I feel."
Mixon said he hurt his knee early on the goal line when his third carry of the night got bounced outside by the Ravens middle and cornerback Marlon Humphrey wrenched him down for a three-yard loss. That means he carried 17 times for 84 yards on a torn meniscus.
"I hit the ground at the goal line and my knee was feeling funny," Mixon said. "Over time I'm like, 'Something is wrong with my knee.' Come to find out I needed surgery. I grinded it out. That's all I could do. I felt good doing it. Being able to be out there for my teammates. When they called on my number I was able to deliver for them. We definitely look forward to doing that in the near future here. As I'm down I'm sure somebody is going to step up and play that role."
For a guy that goes into the weekend as the NFL's second-leading rusher and won't have a shot to take the lead, Mixon was as upbeat as you could get.
"It's disappointing because I got hurt, but at the end of the day, my spirits are up high," Mixon said. "When I come back, whether it's next week or however many weeks, I'm still going to be that competitive Joe. Like, when he's on the field, he's trying to make something happen. I'm trying to do whatever I can to be whatever the team wants me to be, or however ownership wants me to be. I'm going to try to be the best Joe that I can possibly be on the field and off. It was definitely tough going out. It was disappointing. But I've got nothing but high faith. My hopes are definitely high, and we're definitely going to make something happen in this season for sure.
RAWLS READY TO ROLL: Bengals running backs were rolling in the third person Wednesday. Before going out to his first practice, Rawls observed, "This team is already good with or without Rawls. You guys are 2-0. All I can do is help. I'm glad I get a chance to contribute."
The acquisition of Rawls put director of player personnel Duke Tobins's slightly revamped department on display. West Coast scout Steve Radicevic is now also the director of pro scouting while Southeast scout Mike Potts is now director of college scouting, according to the Bengals media guide. With both in the organization for several years (Radicevic since 2012 and Potts since 2014), Tobin is expanding their responsibilities.
Rawls looks like a nice get. At least the way Lewis was talking about him before practice, which he ended up going limited after suffering cramps. Rawls found himself out in Seattle in three seasons even though when he played he had some punch with six 100-yard games, one of them in the postseason. The Bengals like his smarts and good-guy rep, as well as the undeniable production. For this point in the season, Rawls remarkably checks a lot of boxes.
"They decided to go in a different direction," said Rawls of Seattle after not hooking on with the Jets in training camp. "Life in the NFL, you keep climbing. It is a business and I understand that, but I'm more grateful for the love I've got for the game. I don't believe in time. I believe you just keep going and where ever you're meant to be, you'll be."
Lewis saw shades of Cedric Benson '08 when Rawls arrived off the street as he attacked the playbook. With Mixon and Giovani Bernard around he's not going to get a shot at the Bell Cow job like Benson grabbed for the next four seasons. But Lewis likes what he sees.
"I was pleased when I watched him on tape two nights ago," Lewis said. "I was pleased with what he did over the past couple seasons, and even this preseason with the Jets. I knew if he ended up being the guy we chose, he'd be able to help us right away.
"He's a hungry player — he got a taste of playing in the National Football League, then he wasn't in the league for a bit. I don't know if I've ever seen a more focused guy, aside from Ced, who came in after being on the street for a bit. I would liken him to Ced in that way. He's carried himself well in the 24 hours he's been here."