Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis sounded optimistic Friday that right end Michael Johnson (knee) and rookie center Billy Price (foot) won’t be missing much time after leaving early in Thursday’s 34-23 victory over the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium when he termed the injuries not season-ending.
“We’re not sure right now. It’s just a matter of how long it takes for them to heal,” said Lewis, 12 hours after he appeared in the same spot in his post-game presser. “We’ve got a little longer time this week until our next game, so both guys will get an opportunity (to recover) and we’ll see how they come back.”
Lewis usually refuses to say anything about injuries, but he was pretty expansive about Price’s problem, suffered on his 19th play of the game. He actually looked pretty good walking off the field while waving his arms to exhort the crowd.
“Your foot, just like your wrist and hand, are the most intricate parts of your body,” Lewis said. “A sprain is an irritation and an inflammation. It’s just a matter of how quickly he comes around. He seemed to be OK as he was (rousing) the crowd on. I was surprised he couldn’t come back in an emergency situation, but they felt like it was best for him not to do that.”
_Running back Joe Mixon, on pace to join Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson as the Bengals only 1,400-yard rushers, has to grind now to reach the threshold, according to NFL.com. The web site reported Friday that Mixon is undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery after he gutted through 84 yards on 21 carries in Thursday night’s 34-23 victory over the Ravens.
It’s believed the surgery is this weekend with the next game in Carolina in nine days. The report is unclear how long he’ll be out. That’s because it won’t be known until Mixon starts working after the surgery when they’ll know how he’ll respond. Indications are the club doesn’t think the MRI results show anything major, but there’s always an unknown until the surgeon sees inside the knee. The speculation is a couple of weeks, but that’s all it is.
Mixon left the game twice to get his knee checked and admitted after the game if the Ravens hadn’t cut the lead to 28-23 with 9:35 left he “probably would have played it safe,” and not gone back in. Instead, he made the crucial play, reversing field for a 21-yard run that put the Bengals in the red zone to set up Randy Bullock’s 29-yard field goal with 2:59 left for the eight-point lead.
“He’s a dog. He’s one of the best backs in the league,” said wide receiver Tyler Boyd post-game.
Since offensive coordinator Bill Lazor began his term in last season s third game, he’s worked to make Mixon, the 2017 second-round pick, a focal point of the offense. In the games Mixon has rushed the ball in double-digits the Bengals are 8-2 and that includes this season’s 2-0 record in which he has carried 38 times at 4.7 yards per carry.
At that rate in a 16-game schedule he’d finish with 1,432 yards, the fourth most in club history behind Johnson’s top two seasons of 1,458 and 1,454 and Dillon’s top season of 1,435. His pace would have put him at 304 carries, the most for the Bengals since Cedric Benson lugged it 321 times in 2010.
The 5-9, 205-pound Giovani Bernard is a more than competent backup. He’s carried it at least 14 times in 17 games the Bengals are 13-3-1. It also means that Tra Carson, a 5-11, 228-pounder some insiders thought had the best preseason of the backs, figures to get his first NFL carries in Carolina after he averaged 3.9 yards per on 20 carries with two touchdowns. It also means fourth-rounder Mark Walton, a running back from the University of Miami, makes his NFL debut after being inactive the first two games.
_Lewis also indicated that middle linebacker Preston Brown (ankle) is going to be available for the next game in Carolina in nine days after missing Thursday: “If we were playing on Sunday, he would’ve had an opportunity to play. But on the short week, he wasn’t able to come around enough for us to feel confident that he wouldn’t reinjure himself and set himself back. He was willing to try to play, but it wasn’t a good point to set himself back, so I had to make an adult decision there.”
_So like he did in the second half Sunday, sophomore Hardy Nickerson stepped in for his third NFL start and played all but one of the 85 snaps. He had eight tackles and his pass defense came on the first play of the game when Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco went right over the middle at him. Nickerson didn’t get drafted out of Illinois because he’s not seen as a nimble guy that run and cover and he’s not very big at 6-0, 235 pounds. But Lewis and linebackers coach Jim Haslett just had to have his football I.Q. and instincts and it’s working out.
“Hardy has shown that literally since his rookie camp a year and a half ago. Last year, we started Vinny (Vincent Rey) in the spot in place of Vontaze (Burfict),” Lewis said. “Now we’re starting Jordan (Evans) in that spot. Both guys have grown to where we feel good about them. It’s not too big for them, and they’ve proven that. Hardy did a nice job last night. Nick Vigil handled the communications for the first time in his career, which shows his maturity in the things he’s doing.”
_The Bengals won their first and second games by the same score, 34-23. Elias Sports Bureau says the only other time a team win by identical scores in the first two games is in 2007, when the Patriots beat the Jets in Jersey and the Chargers in Foxboro, 38-14. New England went on to win the AFC East at 10-6, get a bye, and win a divisional game before losing in the AFC title game to Denver.
_Both starting safeties, Shawn Williams and rookie Jessie Bates, each had interceptions Thursday. According to Elias the last time the Bengals had both starting safeties get picks in the same game was Nov. 29, 2015 when George Iloka and Reggie Nelson both got future Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles in a 31-7 victory over the Rams at The Paul. Cornerback Leon Hall had the other pick of Foles that day.