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Pregame Notebook: Bengals' 20 Of 22 Opening Day Starters Set; Record-Setting Firepower Makes Playoff Debut

Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins connect in pregame.
Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins connect in pregame.

Bengals wide receiver Stanley Morgan, their best special team player and leading tackler in the kicking game, was inactive with a hamstring issue for Saturday's Wild Card Game against the Raiders at Paul Brown Stadium.

Morgan, who apparently got hurt in practice this week, is their prime gunner, the position that is down field first covering punts. That's a role now expected to be filled by wide receiver Mike Thomas and cornerback Tre Flowers.

Flowers, picked up on waivers back in October, has filled in capably for gunner Brandon Wilson since he went down with a torn ACL on Nov. 7 against Cleveland. Thomas, Flowers, running back Samaje Perine and linebacker Clay Johnston are all tied for second with six teams' tackles behind Morgan's 11.

Even with Morgan out, the Bengals are extremely healthy. All Opening Day defensive starters are expected to go and all but two (right guard Xavier Su'a-Filo and right tackle Riley Reiff) on offense.

With rotational defensive tackle Josh Tupou (knee) inactive, the Bengals were able to activate from the practice squad Mike Daniels, a veteran of 10 postseason games who played well in his season debut last week.

Also inactive is backup defensive end Wyatt Ray, who has played in every game but two. With Cam Sample and Khalid Kareem healthy together, they opted to go with eight defensive linemen. Backup cornerback Jalen Davis, who hasn't played since getting injured three weeks ago, is also inactive.

The other inactives have usually been on the list, tackle Fred Johnson, defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin and wide receiver Trenton Irwin.

BIG NUMBERS: The Bengals came into the playoffs with the single-season yardage record for passing and receiving, set by Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase, respectively, as well as Burrow's club record 34 touchdown passes. The last time they did that was in 2005 when Palmer and Chad Johnson did it. Palmer also set the club record with 32 touchdown passes and a passer rating of 101.1. Burrow has that record, too with 108.3.

SIMMONS RECALL: The one guy left from that '05 team, the first of head coach Marvin Lewis' seven playoff teams, is special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. He's got a unique view of the current team because he can compare it.

"I think it kind of went really in three phases for us in terms of those playoff runs and division championships. It started back in 2005 where that team learned how to grow together," said Simmons earlier this week. "Ultimately it didn't end up in a win. I feel those teams were a little more experienced maybe than what we are in situations like this."

With a combined 57 games, this Bengals team has relatively the same post-season experience the '05 team had. In 2021, those are the fewest playoff games of any of the 14 teams in the tournament. The Cowboys have the next fewest with 74 and the Raiders have 76.

"I feel like this team, the vibe, the energy you can't tell these guys they can't do anything," Simmons said. "These guys believe in each other, they believe in what we're doing and that's half of it, just buying in.

"It's a much different feel than some of those other teams. It's a really, really good locker room. This is as tight, not that those other ones weren't tight at all, but this one has a different feel to it. It's younger, it's vibrant. Maybe it's because I'm older, but the locker room feels very young, very vibrant and very upbeat."