Bengals running back Joe Mixon is having a second half of the season worthy of a Pro Bowl. Since the ninth week Mixon has racked up nearly twice as many yards as he did in the first eight weeks with 605, behind only the Titans' Derrick Henry (748) and NFL rushing leader Nick Chubb of the Browns (670). More than the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott (586) and the Panthers' Christian McCaffrey (572). And, yes, the Ravens' Lamar Jackson (527).
Mixon was walking around the Paul Brown Stadium locker room Monday still bruised from the loss to the Patriots but beaming when congratulated on securing a Tom Brady jersey. Brady noted his post-game tweet where Mixon said he was surprised Brady told him that he was a great runner and that he was too uncomfortable to ask for his fellow Bay Area native's jersey. On Monday morning Brady tweeted Mixon that a No. 12 is headed his way.
It was also noted that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick called him the best back in the league after Sunday's 136-yard effort. His own head coach also had high praise Monday.
"These last few weeks, we've really leaned on him, and he's done a great job in combination with Gio (Bernard) and those guys up front. I'm very happy that he's here and that we have him," said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and when apprised of Belichick's remarks he added, "He's a great back. You hear a lot of coaches that are complimentary of him."
OFF DAY: For the first time in his tenure, Taylor gave the players Monday off. That's usually done only with a win (which is why it's called "Victory Monday"), but Taylor knows there are two games left in a 1-13 season.
"It's that point in the season where everyone just needs to be fresh as we go into these last two games," he said. "I just felt it was necessary to give everyone the day off, come back Wednesday really focused and be ready to go for Miami … Everyone has nicks and bruises at this point. It's good to give them some time to clear their heads, come back and get ready to go on Wednesday."
SHOT GUN ANSWER: The biggest play of the game was the fourth-and-one the Patriots stuffed Mixon up the middle at the Patriots 30 in the second quarter after Mixon lined up next to quarterback Andy Dalton in the shot gun and Taylor took a little heat. Why not put Dalton under center? Here's what Taylor said:
"It gives the back great vision to hit it front side or back side. There are plays in the game plan. Later on we had a short yardage situation we got under center and tossed the ball. There are things that we did depending on how we game planned it. I feel like we put ourselves in good positon. There's a zone read element to it. It slows them up on the back side. It gives the back a little flexibility as opposed to being under center, it's a little harder. If you get any penetration up front, the backs have a harder time cutting back."
Coming into the game, Mixon was three-for-three on fourth-and-one. All out of shot gun.
"People remember the ones you don't get," Taylor said.
PATS RUSH: After the game, Bengals right end Sam Hubbard was stunned to hear the Patriots rushed for a season-high 175 yards. "I thought we had them under 100 heading into the fourth quarter," Hubbard said.
They did. With 99, to be exact. But led by old friend Rex Burkhead's 33-yard touchdown run, the Pats killed the clock with 76 yards on 14 carries in the fourth.
"You've got to be disciplined for the full game," said safety Shawn Williams. I feel like at the end we just kind of let some things go. Whether we were pressing to make a play or whatever it is, but Rex squirted out on us. The yards like that add up, 30, 40 yards."
It was the second straight week safety Jessie Bates III missed a tackle on a long run. But he wasn't the only guy missing tackles Sunday. According to profootballfocus.com he had three of the Bengals' 10 missed tackles. Taylor knows he's got guys trying maybe too hard to get turnovers. The Bengals are last in the league with 12.
"We need to keep punching at the ball and getting it out," Taylor said. You saw it happen in the second half at some times. (But) it leads to missed tackles. It's a double-edged sword. You reinforce it, you want it, they try to do it. But sometimes it gives up another two to three yards. It's an area we need to continue to improve."
Bates has the second-most missed tackles in the league in the run game, according to PFF, but he's also had a slew of chances playing 882 snaps, or 99 percent. And the Bengals are usually in nickel on run downs. Of the top 12 players in missed tackles against the run, only two are safeties and the rest linebackers and ends.
FEELING A DRAFT: The player personnel department and management had their first draft meetings last week. The coaches don't get involved until after the season, but two weeks to go and the No. 1 pick questions are coming fast and furious for Taylor even though the Bengals have yet to secure it. A short-hand version of Taylor's answers: He doesn't care about draft position and he won't utter the name "Joe Burrow."
"That's not something we concern ourselves with right now. We're focused on the team we have, and winning the game this week in Miami," Taylor said. "We have a sense of the things that are going on outside of the building that you need to address with the players. That's not something we talk about. They do a great job. They're focused on coming back and winning the game. It's important to them. Every time I stand in front of the team and talk, I can feel the energy and see where their heads are at, and (they're) trying to beat the opponent that we have coming up in the next six, five, four, however many days it is. Their focus is on the right things."
As far as his daily meetings with management, "We talk about all things that concern the organization. During the season, it's focused on the things that can help us from week to week."
ROAD FINALE: The Bengals have gone winless on the road three times in their history (1993, 1991 and 1979) and they get their last shot this Sunday in Miami. This team is on pace to score 226 points the '93 team went for 187, they scored 263 in 1991 and 337 in 1979. If they finish at 226 it would be their fewest points since the '08 team without their starting quarterback for 12 games scored 204 and since the advent of the 16-game schedule it would be their fourth fewest behind the 2000 team (185), 1993 (187), 2008 (204) and tied with 2001.
A.J: Jay Morrison of The Athletic drew the short straw and asked Taylor the A.J. Green update question to close out his Monday news conference.
"We almost made it," Taylor said. "I'll talk to him again. He'll be in the building. We'll discuss what the plan will be for him, starting with Wednesday. If he's able to go on Wednesday, then we go from there. I don't fault you for asking."