Bengals newly-minted Pro Bowl running back Joe Mixon went on record Wednesday night saying he'd rather go to the Super Bowl. By Thursday morning before practice he was calling Sunday's AFC North scrum for first place (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium his first career playoff game.
That will happen when both clubs are 8-6 and in first place.
"Most definitely," Mixon said. "Everybody is going to be running around here with their hair on fire.
"We're in a great position right now. We control our own destiny. Biggest game of the year for us. It's a playoff game. It has to be a playoff-like atmosphere. Hope the fans can do whatever they can to make it out and support us in any way, shape, form or fashion that they can. This is the biggest game of the year. This has everything to do with the playoffs. It's going to be huge. We have to match the intensity. We went into their house and stole one from them. I know they're going to come out and try to do the same."
That was a 41-17 armed burglary back on Oct. 24 in which Mixon only had to carry it 12 times for 59 yard on the way to his first pro Bowl in a season he currently is the NFL's second leading rusher. Even though he has just 170 yards in the three games since his career-best 165 yards against Pittsburgh and he has just one 100-yard games in eight outings against the Ravens, Mixon knows that can all change in two series.
"Lately teams have been doing a good job slowing us down a little bit in the run game," Mixon said. "Sometimes it's like that. Sometimes you lean on the run and there are other times you lean on the pass. Lately we've been leaning on the pass. You get a game like last week (15-10 win in Denver) where things weren't really on all cylinders and, like, you say, it was an ugly win. But all wins are wins. I'll take however many wins like that."
KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY: With Trey Hendrickson a sack away from setting the Bengals all-time record with 14, it's hard to believe that they took some heat for giving him the biggest free-agent deal in club history (four years, $60 million) back in March that paid off in a Pro Bowl berth. There were all these whispers about Hendrickson's 13.5 sacks last season being the product of the people around him on the Saints defense.
Well, now he's got 13 with another team in the other conference. And on Thursday, the closest New Orleans all-decade defensive end Cam Jordan came to being around Hendrickson was when Hendrickson thanked him for being such a great role model on and off the field.
And Hendrickson didn't stop with thanking Jordan. He began by thanking "My Lord and savior Jesus Christ," and his wife. Then he thanked the Brown and Blackburn families who own the Bengals, as well his agent, offseason trainer and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, line coach Marion Hobby and senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner's work with the edge players.
"I don't get motivated by the negative feedback. I was more excited to prove the Brown family correct," Hendrickson said. "I was more excited to wear the logo (of the team) that believed in me. More excited to rush for guys like Hobby and Lou and Duffner and show they've got a guy who they were proud and that meant more to me when they came up to me and said they were proud of me than the negative media. I knew if I did my job the pieces would fall into place."
Hendrickson became the Bengals' first unrestricted free agent to make a Pro Bowl in his first season with the team since cornerback Ashley Ambrose did it in 1996. UFA cornerback Tory James did it in his second season in 2004. Cornerback Adam Jones and running back Cedric Peerman, who both made it in 2015, were signed after they were released by other teams. Same with long snapper Clark Harris, a Pro Bowler in 2017.
Quarterback Jeff Blake (1995) and kicker Shayne Graham (2005) became Bengals when they were claimed on waivers. The closest thing to an unrestricted free agent in 1969, wide receiver Chip Myers came from the Alabama Hawks of the Continental League and made the 1972 Pro Bowl. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (2013) arrived the year before as undrafted free agent.
He's now got 19 sacks in last 20 games after finishing last season with six in his last six games.
"I kind of let it go," Hendrickson said of not getting to the Pro Bowl last season. "There are just some things you can't control. … and put it in God's hands and that if I kept working hard, kept tapping the rock, it would break."
LAMAR DNP: Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (ankle) didn't practice again. But he can put on Superman's cape at any point. In the meantime, three Ravens with productive track records against Cincinnati went limited in fullback Patrick Ricard, defensive tackle Calais Campbell and cornerback Tavon Young.
BENGALS INJURY UPDATE: Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is still on the COVID-19 list.
Just so tough for second-year edge Khalid Kareem. After coming back from last season's injured shoulder, he looked great in the first few days of training camp before hurting it again. Then when he got back for the preseason finale, he got a sack and tipped a pass on his first three snaps. Then he hurt his shoulder and couldn't play until Halloween.
Then he saved the game last week in Denver with a red-zone steal of quarterback Drew Lock during a career day of a tackle for a loss and a pressure and he got a concussion running back his forced fumble that didn't count because he was ruled down. He left on a cart and hasn't been seen since. He's missed the last two practices.
Nose tackle D.J. Reader returned to Thursday full. Backup tackle Fred Johnson was out with an illness, starting right guard Hakeem Adeniji (ankle) was still limited and tight end Drew Sample (ankle) returned to limited.