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Quick Hits: Heading Into First Postseason Start, Burrow's Interceptions Disappear; Free Agents Give Young Bengals Playoff Poise; All Starters Full Go

Trey Hendrickson has been there before.
Trey Hendrickson has been there before.

Zac Taylor couldn't help but break into a smile before Tuesday's practice when the question was asked.

Yes, he remembered the angst in the days after Joe Burrow walked off the Paul Brown stadium turf throwing his NFL-leading 14th interception. And it was exactly that. A throwaway throw into the end zone as he was chased, a desperate throw at a desperate time on a second-and-15 from the Chargers 15 down 16 with eight minutes left.

Since then, Burrow has thrown 146 straight passes without a pick. Per Elias, only Aaron Rodgers (243) and Zach Wilson (156) have more. The NFL leader in interceptions turned out to be the Rams' Matthew Stafford with 17. Second with 15 is the man that beat him that day, Justin Herbert. Tied with 14 is the Raiders' Derek Carr, the man he plays in Saturday's Wild Card Game (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5) at PBS.

Now Taylor's smile at the angst question.

"You know, maybe compare that the Ja'Marr Chase preseason conversation. You know, there wasn't a lot of angst on our end," said Taylor of the should-be NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year's drops. "We knew that things were heading in the right direction. Maybe not everybody can see it. Same with the interceptions. I've watched every interception as many times as anybody else.

"The quarterback's always going to take blame for the interceptions, even though, you know, it's all 11 guys, it's play calling, it's protection, its route running, it's tipped balls. It's always going to fall on the quarterback. And again, knowing what we knew about all the interceptions, had a high degree of confidence that Joe was making really good decisions. He throws as accurately as any quarterback in this league. And we knew they would even out at some point."

Taylor has got it there. Burrow's 70.4 completion percentage did nothing to hamper his 8.9 yards per pass. Both led the league.

Coincidence or not, it seemed like the Nov. 21 win in Vegas over these Raiders seemed to be a bit of a turning point. In a game Burrow was forced to take what defensive coordinator Gus Bradley's Cover Three gave him, Burrow stopped a streak of five straight games with at least an interception and threw just three in his final seven games.

"I've just become a more all-around quarterback, understanding whatever the game asks of me to get the job done is what I'm going to go out and do," Burrow said. "In that game, it was not forcing the ball, not turning the ball over and you know, we're going to be able to run the ball and get the win. And some games you've got to try to force some balls in there to go and score points. But with interceptions, sometimes you got to get a little lucky and sometimes you know, it's a mix of getting lucky and making good decisions."

Taylor doesn't think it's a matter of Burrow becoming more patient. He keeps going back to the tipped screen against the Jets and, maybe plays like Chase's dropped touchdown pass that went straight into the arms of the Chargers.

"I don't think the interceptions were for lack of patience or poor decision making," Taylor said. "It's the tipped balls. In some cases it was being off by two inches. It was defensive ends reacting and tipping the ball up in the air. It was getting hit on the throw and the ball popping up. It was throwing a go-route right in stride and the ball being bouncing off the receiver's hands and the DB picking it off. There's no reason to panic and overreact to that kind of stuff."

EXPERIENCE PLUS: The Bengals aren't as young as you think. They've got 15 players who have played in at least one postseason game, three more than a 2005 Bengals team that was returning to the postseason after a drought. Seven of their eight starters with experience are on defense. Left guard Quinton Spain is the only playoff vet on offense. A dozen have come via free agency. Long snapper Clark Harris (six) and punter Kevin Huber (five) lead the way with number of postseason appearances stemming from the Bengals playoff run earlier in their careers. The other Bengal playoff vet is tight end C.J. Uzomah, who took one scrimmage snap in the 2015 Wild Card as a rookie.

It's Burrow's first postseason game, but he sounds like he's been there before, too. And he has with a national title to his credit.

"I think some of the vets who have been here for a while or have come in from other teams who have had the opportunity to play in the playoffs," said left tackle Jonah Williams, "they have stressed the importance of this and the level of focus we need to have. We've got a locker room in there of guys who, this isn't coming to a surprise to us. This is what we worked for since fall camp. Now that we're here, it just feels like its go time. It doesn't feel like some novel thing. This is what we prepared for, we're here and now we have to just go execute."

INJURY UPDATE: It's about as healthy as you can be going into the playoffs. Every starter went full Tuesday, including Burrow (knee), Spain (ankle), right guard Hakeem Adeniji (ankle) and kicker Evan McPherson (right groin).

Only Adeniji played in Cleveland, where he limped off the field, but came back. The starters appreciated the rest.

"Physically it was good, mentally it was a little weird not being there with everybody," Burrow said. "But it was a good little break and ready to get back at it."

While the Bengals were impressed with rookie left tackle D'Ante Smith's first NFL start Sunday, Williams took advantage.

"I think that's been really helpful for all of our bodies. I know I feel great," Williams said. "I think everyone else who had the opportunity to rest feels great. And now we got to do something with it. It's all for naught if we don't go out and play like we know we showed and know we can this Saturday. So that's where we're at. We all feel good. We're ready to go. And I'm looking forward to Saturday."