The Joe Burrow vibe kept going in the Bengals' first scrimmage of the season Friday when he led the first team offense to three touchdowns on all three of his long drives that featured two red- zone fade touchdown passes to wide receiver Auden Tate.
Welcome to the NFL, kid. Or maybe it should be the other way around. The offense won Friday's scrimmage that alternated between "live," and "thud," by something like 18-11. But the biggest takeaway for Bengaldom is in the last two days Burrow has looked every bit the overall No. 1 pick and has had veteran defenders shaking their heads.
On Friday, the 10-year left end Carlos Dunlap was one of those guys. Burrow capped the first drive against a smattering of first- and second-team defenders with a perfectly timed ball to a leaping Tate on the left sideline in the end zone and even though cornerback Tony Brown was right there in coverage he had no shot.
"Ball couldn't have been thrown any better. He was right on him," Dunlap said as he shook his head on the sideline.
When the dust cleared, Burrow finished 13 of 18 on his five drives, which included two field goals during a period that began at the first defense's 30. The defense worked a three-and-out each time and Randy Bullock and Tristan Vizcaino each hit field goals.
"I thought he was in good control all day," said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor. "There's one down in the red zone he'll probably want back on an extended play. Other than that I thought he led the offense. He did a nice job communicating and had some nice drives for us."
Burrow was immense on that first drive, bailing them out of a couple of false starts. One appeared to be on the offensive line and the other appeared to be on a wide receiver. He hit all six passes and kept it going when he converted a third-and-15 to Tate getting behind cornerback LeShaun Sims and safety Brandon Wilson on a corner route.
Burrow's second drive against the second defense began with a false start on left guard Michael Jordan. But that was erased on the next snap when Burrow went play-action to Tate on a slant for about 12 yards. They used the remaining three downs to run for the first down with running back Samaje Perine breaking a tackle on fourth-and-one.
A shot of about 15 yards over the middle to wide receiver Michael Thomas and a good run behind the left side got them into the red zone, where we have more storylines about Burrow's resilience. Here's the play Taylor was talking about when he got chased to his right and over threw tight end C.J. Uzomah in the end zone on a play that defensive end Sum Hubbard actually dropped and was in the area, but the ball was high for anyone.
As the I.T. people say, "No worries." Burrow went fade again and he put it where only the 6-5 Tate could reach it in the right corner because the 6-0 Sims is a big guy, but he got outjumped.
- Taylor is concerned about the false starts. Yes, they treated Friday like a pre-season opener, but that should have been six days ago. The season starts in 23 days.
"Guys just have to get dialed in. First time we're really full go. There's more at stake than there has been," Taylor said. "It's really meant to replace a pre-season game for us and this stuff usually happens in the first pre-season game. We have to be on top of it."
- Tate has spent the last week showing everyone that last season's 40 catches were no fluke. With no return set yet for A.J. Green, John Ross III and Tee Higgins, Tate has helped Burrow not blink an eye without three of his top four guys. And on Friday Tyler Boyd, his slot receiver and only available of the big four, barely played. No matter. You start to think Burrow has something special with Boyd and then Tate just took over Friday. Maybe not starting corners, but guys like Sims and Brown have solid NFL experience
Along with the two touchdowns, Tate kept that first drive going with a Boyd-like third-and-14 catch.
"You can't just say he's a red-zone player. He's a three-down guy for you," Taylor said." It's not about exploring with Auden Tate. He has proven, on the film last year and the way he goes about his business that he can a lot for you as an offense."
- Good luck trying to figure out which receiver makes it after Green, Boyd, Ross, Higgins and Tate. Alex Erickson showed he's going nowhere on Friday. He not only remains the first guy catching punts, but he made some big catches for both Burrow and backup Ryan Finley on Friday.
He made a terrific leaping catch over Brown on a Finley ball he came back for and then was wide open for a touchdown from Finley on what looked to be a post Erickson broke off on cornerback Greg Mabin.
Tate and Erickson are two blue-collar guys that simply punch the clock and Taylor loves them for what they bring to his culture.
"We have a lot of really good examples of that on our football team right now. Of guys that fit that description. And the guys that fit that description bring everyone else along with them," Taylor said. "It's such a good culture. You get here in the morning and see guys getting in extra work. It's a really good environment to be around every day for the players."
- It looks like Burrow had one bad incompletion, if you can call it that. He got flushed out of the pocket and then rolled to his left at around the 30 in a wide open space. As he ran with the ball and had a defender running at him, he motioned for Erickson in the end zone to go right. It was a tad short and cornerback William Jackson broke it up,
Since he hadn't looked at the tape yet, Taylor was hesitant to talk about specific players. But not Jackson.
"(He) just made some good plays on the ball. I was excited to see that from him," Taylor said. "He's taken some steps in the right direction. It was something I noted as I was calling plays on offense and watching the defense I thought he was worth singling out today."
- It was a great day for Florida State roommates. Besides Burrow, the most exciting rookie was undrafted Florida State running back Jacques Patrick, Tate's buddy from Tallahassee. The 6-2, 231-pound Patrick showed a nice blend of speed and power and basically scored a touchdown all by himself for Finley's second group when broke off three long runs.
On one play he run away from everybody on a sweep to the left and on another he broke two tackles to get into the secondary. The touchdown came on what looked to be about a 20-yard run on really good blocking by that second offensive line anchored by guard Billy Price and tackle Fred Johnson on the left side.
He kept it up in other periods after one run he broke outside of left edge, and the 6-8 Johnson was the first to reach him, lifting him up by one hand and yelling at him, "Keep running it, keep running it."
- Keep an eye tight end Drew Sample, the second-rounder from last year who is finally healthy. He's having a great camp and check out these two plays from Burrow's last drive. After grabbing a Burrow pass down the seam and racking up some major yards after catch on about a 20-yard play, Sample came across the line and took out linebacker Austin Calitro on a nice block that sprung Perine for a big gain.
Perine kind of had a series like Patrick did. He then scored virtually untouched on a red-zone sweep with Jordan and left tackle Jonah Williams leading massive interference.
"I thought offensively the run game, it was a good starting point for our first scrimmage," Taylor said. "Obviously, that's a point of emphasis. We get plenty of work in the passing game. Just the way that we operate over the last couple weeks. So, when you finally put the pads on you want to see guys run the ball. That was a big point of emphasis for us on both sides. I'm excited to look this tape over and really analyze a lot of different positions. "
- Left tackle Jonah Williams looked to hold up well. He's not getting any free lunches over with a steady diet of Carl Lawson, a guy that never stops. But Burrow seemed to have had time on the left side Friday and he did a nice job in the run game on the Perine drive.
"He's dialed in. He's certainly been a great asset for us so far in this training camp," Taylor said. "Those are the expectations we had for him. He's getting a lot of good work in against some really good rushers and guys who are good run defenders. It's a good test for him every day. He's responded to the challenges and I'm really encouraged by him. "
_The Bengals get Saturday off, just like they always do. A day off from camp after the scrimmage. They've been quite healthy in this pandemic and they're banking on everyone being safe for practice on Sunday. But Taylor is also trying to establish urgency. In the old days this scrimmage would have happened the first week of August. Not as we start the fourth week.
"We've done a great job up to this point taking care of our health in the time we've had off, so reinforcing that, because they do get the night off they do get tomorrow off," Taylor said. "So we have to make sure we're smart with our decisions so we don't compromise what we are building here.
"And secondly this would have taken place on the second pre-season game. We kind of eased into training camp and today really felt like we're finally tackling, but in a normal year this is the second pre-season game. There's really two weeks left if you're trying to make this football team. We just have to make that mentally urgency, that guys understand it and use this day off to get your body right, come back and we've got an important two-day stretch on Sunday and Monday when we're in full pads."
Highlights from the offense and defense during the first team scrimmage at Bengals Training Camp.