Joe Burrow had the relaxed air of a guy who had just finished his last final exam of the semester. It's not that he's an unpleasant sort. Far from it. But he seemed looser than usual when he talked to the media following Sunday's return to the field in front of 34,667 at Paul Brown Stadium.
"I'm excited that preseason is over and we can focus on the first game," Burrow said after the 29-26 loss in the preseason finale with the Dolphins. "We are tired of going against each other in practice each day, hitting each other and getting in fights, since we see each other each day. It's going to be nice to get out there and hit someone else when it counts."
Burrow's knee has responded so well and the Sept. 12 opener against Mike Zimmer's Vikings at The Paul is so close that the scribes are already working ahead on their special section stories or their stories for the week of Minnesota.
With the Bengals looking at a light week with just two days of practice (Wednesday and Thursday) before a long weekend off, who knows when Burrow can be asked about his old LSU teammate and Viking star receiver Justin Jefferson. And which native New Orleans wide receiver, Jefferson or the Bengals own Ja'Marr Chase, does the best "Griddy," dance.
"We made each other a lot of money," Burrow said when asked about Jefferson, enjoying the give-and-take. "I think I made a little more, based on my draft slot. Justin is a great guy, great player. He was my go-to guy for my first year at LSU. Then, Ja'Marr emerged and I could take my pick."
Burrow picked Chase, or Taylor picked Chase, on Burrow's only pass of his comeback. It was a simple screen that Chase turned into a quagmire when he dropped it. It wasn't just a drop. It looked like it could have been a fumble. The thing bounced the wrong way down the field, a bounce that always makes the quarterback vulnerable. Ask Andy Dalton.
Thankfully, Burrow had already been warned.
"They told me, 'If there were fumbles or any snaps over my head, just get away from it," Burrow said. "Don't go near the ball. Don't worry about it."
Since that was Chase's fourth straight drop in a game, the worry warts are out in full force even though he had his best practice as a pro last Thursday.
"I know what kind of guy Ja'Marr is and what kind of player he is. He will be ready to go Week 1," Burrow insisted on Sunday.
A knee brace?
"Not a big fan," Burrow said.
Like head coach Zac Taylor said, Burrow perfecting plays was the last thing on his mind against the Dolphins. Taylor wanted to get the trappings out of the way, not installation.
"Starting with all of those guys being in the huddle, the crowd cheering, just get that emotion out of the way because that is a big part of life," Taylor said. "Just getting back in there and Trey (Hopkins) also at center, to be back in game mode and get some plays and I think it was beneficial for the whole group. It was quick. There was nothing significant from a scheme standpoint that was really going to take place. We were going to be very cautious obviously. But I think it was just good for that whole entire offensive group."
Burrow wasn't going to get sentimental, but Taylor was. For a lot of the offseason, Taylor didn't know when he'd get back his two smartest players on offense. Both Burrow and Hopkins are rehabbing from the most dangerous knee injury of all and Hopkins' ACL tear had come six week after Burrow's injury in the Jan,. 3 finale.
But with both guys having good enough rehabs that it's been pretty obvious for a couple of weeks he'd have them both on Sept. 12, Taylor decided to honor Nick Cosgray by making the Bengals director of rehab a captain for Sunday's game.
Now, that's something Burrow could get sentimental about.
"It was a great way to honor Nick, who is a guy who works really hard for us," Burrow said. "He's an unsung hero for the team. He's a guy who gets a lot of guys right. Whatever you have, you go to Nick. He's going to get you right and tell you what you need to do to minimize the effects of an injury. I'm really glad we were able to honor him in that way."
But Burrow knows he's not done with Cosgray or the knee.
"I'm feeling great right now. We are going to continue to rehab through the year," Burrow said. "You can't just stop and let it deteriorate. That will be something that is ongoing."