Quick Hits: Taylor Switches To High-Stakes Roll In Vegas; Burrow Talks Protecting The Ball; Candid Hopkins Seeks Answers

Joe Burrow scrambles.
Joe Burrow scrambles.

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said it was OK before Wednesday's practice.

So we did it and put it in the headline as his team prep's for Sunday's Showdown on the Strip (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) when the 5-4 Bengals and the 5-4 Raiders meet in a numbers game in Las Vegas.

Taylor's game when he comes to the desert when he's not working is craps.

"Very, very low wages craps. Low-stakes craps," Taylor said.

"About once every two to three years. I usually self-impose a ban when I lose, I don't lose a lot of money but when I lose money, I kind of eliminate that from my life. I like it," Taylor said. "My wife knows we don't go to Vegas together. I just spend 72 hours at the craps table. I don't go to shows. I don't go to dinner. I don't go to the pool. I just like to play craps."

Taylor's parents think like their oldest. They booked him a flight from college at Lincoln, Neb., on his 21st birthday and met him in the desert and taught him how to play. Now 17 years later and with everybody in the AFC North seemingly with at least five wins and a shot to make the playoffs, you'd have to say Sunday is the highest roll he's ever had in town.

"If that's how you want to phrase it, that's the headline, go for it, yeah." Taylor said.

So we did.

POST-BYE BURROW: With the dust cleared from the weekend, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is still the AFC's highest-rated passer at 102.6, which would be the second best in club history next to Andy Dalton's 106.3 in 2015.

His 11 interceptions also still lead the AFC and you don't have to remind him because he was watching more than last week's Netflix fare of "Catching Killers" and "Billy Milligan."

Burrow sounds almost offended if you think he got away from football for even a weekend.

"Of course I watched football," Burrow said before practice. "C'mon. That's all I do.

  "I watched football all day. It was fun. It's always good to step back and see how teams win, mistakes other people make. You can learn a lot from days like Sunday where you can just sit back and watch all the games."

Last week, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan talked about a guy who had 11 interceptions during his entire college career referencing at times, 'I've haven't thrown this many interceptions in my life." So it wasn't surprising to hear what Burrow said resonated with him from a full day in front of the tube.

"All the games come down to one or two plays at the end," Burrow said. "Minimizing mistakes."

Burrow is lighting up other categories. He's second in the NFL with 8.73 yards per attempt and fifth with a 68.2 completion percentage. But after taking an exhaustive team and self-scout, he knows what the offense has to address first in the season's second half.

"Take better care of the ball," Burrow said.

HOPKINS GUTS THROUGH: Two days after free safety Jessie Bates III opened up to the media in a Zoom call about the reasons why he feels like he's underperformed this season, veteran center Trey Hopkins had similar candid comments for reporters Wednesday in front of The Cart at Paul Brown Stadium

"I'm definitely not where I want to be right now, and I hope to turn that around in the second half of the season," Hopkins said. "I don't feel like I've played like the same No. 66 that I've been the last couple years. I'm still trying to iron that out and find out what it takes to play better."

He has a built-in excuse, but the classy cerebral Hopkins isn't going to use his fairly recent ACL surgery as an excuse. He hasn't missed a game despite suffering the injury only on Jan. 3 and being out of surgery virtually not even ten months.

But he acknowledged he just doesn't have the same kind of strength as his leg gets back under him.

"Probably pushing the 300-pound guy.," Hopkins said of his biggest challenge. "Bending with no weight is easy. It's can you be explosive with another 300-pound guy coming at you. I found that hasn't been where I want it to. My answer so far has been rehab, continue strengthening it."

Hopkins hasn't practiced Wednesdays pretty much since the season started. But this Wednesday he got a limited amount of work in an effort to find the key for a better stretch.

"It's finding other ways, where can I find another percent to get better. If you're not practicing Wednesday, what can you do to give you more of an edge on Sundays?" Hopkins asked. "Is it film, more rehab, finding the perfect balance to be the most productive? The past eight weeks, no Wednesdays, the answer has been trying to do more rehab. Now continue to increase the rehab but I'm not exactly pleased with the first half of the season so far so we've got to find something else to do. Whatever it may be. Find another way to get that next step."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: The Bengals may be down a tight end in Vegas with Mitchell Wilcox missing Wednesday on the COVID list. Taylor said he'll have to test negative two straight days to get back …

Taylor he still expects backup linebacker Markus Bailey to be off the COVID list Thursday in time to practice. That would be fortuitous with backup linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither undergoing what is expected to be season-ending foot surgery …

Wide receiver Auden Tate (thigh), who has missed the last two games, went limited. But it sounds like he'll be available, according to Taylor, after missing the last two games …

From Cincinnati, Oakland and Los Angeles, a look back at some of the best images from the Bengals-Raiders series through the years.

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