Bengals head coach Zac Taylor wasn't bashful about calling out the guys to whom he handed game balls after Sunday's 31-20 victory over the Titans at Paul Brown Stadium,
Free safety Jessie Bates III for his end zone interception on the first series of the game and strong safety Vonn Bell for his end zone interception for what would have been the Titans' last drive of the game but was wiped out by defensive end Carl Lawson's neutral zone infraction. In between, Bates led them with 11 tackles while Bell had five, plus a big hit on Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill that set the tone for the second half, as well as a third-down pass defense that stopped Tennessee's first drive of the second half.
And, Billy Price got a game ball after his first start at center since his rookie year finale in 2018 and he ended up keeping together a line that had started all of 32 games for the Bengals at their respective spots. And they all belonged to right guard Alex Redmond (22) and Price (10).
It was also Price's first start of his third season as the former first-round pick has quietly gone about his new role as a versatile backup and Taylor wanted to show his appreciation.
"He's about everything we want our players to be about," Taylor said. "Our guys can learn a lot from Billy."
BURROW TEEING UP SECOND HALF: With the Bengals heading into the bye week, quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Tee Higgins are just 24 yards off the pace of matching what the Bengals' Andy Dalton and A.J. Green did nine years ago when they became the only rookie quarterback-wide receiver tandem in history to combine for 20 touchdown passes and 1,000 yards receiving.
After throwing his two touchdown passes Sunday in the second half, Burrow is on pace to throw 22 touchdowns and Higgins is on pace for 976 yards after leading the Bengals with 78 yards on six catches.
How about that fourth-and-five they pulled off with 2:36 left in the first half from the Titans 43? The Titans had just whisked don the field on nine runs of 75 yards to cut the lead to 10-7, and there was Burrow dancing around in the pocket, he and his line hanging in there until Higgins looked back, broke off a deep route and made himself available over the middle for a 22-yard catch. Three plays later it was 17-7 with 32 seconds left.
"He's a great player, and we've had a couple months now to really understand each other," Burrow said. "We have a couple great players on this team, and I'm excited for the future with Tee."
BYE, BYE: Burrow is also on pace to break Andrew Luck's rookie record with 4,544 yards. That would also give him the Bengals' season record for anybody, but he'll take the week off.
"A much-needed bye week, by the way," Burrow said. "Injury-wise, body-wise — everyone just needs to get their mind right. We have a chance to rattle off a lot of wins in the last part of the season. It starts in Pittsburgh (Nov. 15). That's going to be a big game, and I'm excited to play in that one. But I'm going to enjoy this bye week first."
A no-brainer for the Bengals' new leader when asked about bye-week plans.
"Absolutely nothing," Burrow said.
HUBER GIVES STYLISH END: Bengals punter Kevin Huber, moving past two franchise icons Sunday, ended his 182nd Bengals game with a 47-yard punt to the Titans 2 with 16 seconds left.
Huber now has played one more game than all-time right tackle Willie Anderson and all-time leading scorer Jim Breech to have sixth place all by himself on the club's game list. He's got five heavy hitters in front of him: Pro Football Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz (185), two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Tim Krumrie (188), all-time leading passer Ken Anderson (192), top linebacker Reggie Williams (206) and Ken Riley, the NFL's fifth-leading interceptor (207).
STAT CHECK: For the first time since the second game of his career in a PBS win over the Steelers in 2013, running back Giovani Bernard scored a touchdown rushing and receiving. Both his receiving touchdowns have come in the fourth quarter the last two weeks.
"With the game on the line, Gio's going to make a play for you," Burrow said.
STAT CHECK II: Bell also did this: his blitz up the middle opened it up for a sack by rookie linebacker Logan Wilson when Wilson came on a delayed blitz for their first sack in more than 90 passes dating back to the Oct. 18 game in Indy and their only sack Sunday.
Wilson, a third-round pick, already has two interceptions. With another half sack Wilson becomes the first Bengals rookie linebacker since Odell Thurman in 2005 to have multiple sacks and interceptions.