The Oscar-looking contraption that Sam Hubbard had gag-gifted Trenton Irwin during the last holiday season as an homage to his youthful acting career stood a satisfied sentry on the top shelf of Irwin's locker Monday afternoon in the Bengals locker room.
Irwin, the affable and able backup wide receiver who understudied so well Sunday for the inactive Tee Higgins (rib), could see why someone might nominate him for Best Supporting Actor In a Must Road Win.
And after his career-high eight catches and two crafty punt returns of at least 21 yards supplemented Pro Bowl leading man Ja'Marr Chase's franchise-record 15 catches in the 34-20 win at Arizona, Irwin even had a speech after head coach Zac Taylor flipped him a game ball.
Just like Chase gave two of Sunday's three touchdown balls to dad Jimmy Chase sitting in the stands, Irwin met dad Craig Irwin in the postgame family and friends section and presented him with the ball.
"He's my guy. He's my guy," said Trenton, which is what his father calls him. "He's been with me on the journey. Practice squad. Inactive. Practice squad. Cut. Pretty cool to have him here."
Craig Irwin can't make it to many games. Not with Trenton's three younger siblings always playing a sport every weekend. Trent estimates he's been about to five since he started playing in 2021. But since the Arizona game was played a five-hour drive from his southern California home in Valencia, it was doable. So maybe it will be San Franciso at the end of the month, which is about as far as Arizona.
"Depends on what the siblings have got going," Trent Irwin said.
But even if Craig Irwin can't make it, he'll be one of the first to know what the Bengals are doing. He talks to Trenton every day and during the season that means quizzing him on the game plan. Every day. Ninety minutes.
"He wants to be prepared," Craig Irwin told Bengals.com last season. "He just wants to hear it."
Trent Irwin didn't follow Craig into acting even though he had a good run as a child actor. But when he got benched in high school because a practice conflicted with a commercial shoot, the son informed the father he was no longer in the family business.
"I'm a football player," Trent told Craig and, boy, is he ever. Playing Higgins' spot of the outside Z, Irwin grabbed a career-high 60 yards to go with the eight catches. He got a game ball last Christmas Eve in New England (he kept that one because there was no family there) when he scored two touchdowns from the slot after Tyler Boyd left early with a finger injury. A few weeks before that in Pittsburgh when Chase was sidelined with a hip injury, Irwin kept the clock running with a 32-yard second-effort-fourth-quarter dagger.
"I go where ever they want to put me," Irwin said. "The whole receiver room has to know every position … The Y, the F, X, Z, H. Throw in a letter, you have to know it."
But it's one thing to know it. It's another to be steel-belted reliable. Taylor reflected Monday on the flea flicker quarterback Joe Burrow barely overthrew Irwin in the end zone Sunday and how it was the same play for Irwin's wide-open 45-yard touchdown catch against Cleveland back in December.
"Trenton you trust. He hasn't worked either flea flicker in the last two years in practice ever," Taylor said. "That just speaks to the trust, get Trenton in there. We know he knows how to do it, we know, he'll have a great opportunity. And so many things there's trust the coaches have in him, there's trust his teammates have in him, there's trust Joe has in him to be in the right spot, make the play. Same goes for all the guys that were on the field yesterday."
And then there were those two punt returns, a 28-yarder and a 21-yarder. He's become more than a placeholder for the injured Charlie Jones (thumb), the rookie wide receiver they drafted in the fourth round who delivered an 81-yard touchdown in his second NFL game and still leads the NFL with an 18.8-yard average. Irwin's five returns don't qualify, but his 14-yard average would be fifth in the league.
Jones began listening to special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons' advice to hit it and go and Irwin knows why.
"There's a feel to it," said Irwin, who winced when he thought of the "meat-on-the-bone," he left on the 28-yarder. "Everybody can fly at this level. In the NFL, you can't outrun angles."
CAM BAM: You can talk Chase and Burrow and Irwin and running back Joe Mixon's season-high 81 yards and Taylor's effusive praise of the offensive line. But the Bengals probably don't win if cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt doesn't have a pick-six from 11 yards out with 1:33 left in the half for a 17-14 half-time lead. It came seconds after the Cards had their own game-changing fourth-and-one stuff on the 1.
"It was a momentum shift with not being able to get into the endzone on fourth-and-1 on the goal line," CTB said Monday. "Who doesn't expect us to not get into the endzone then and for us to go out there and stay on our toes and get it back and score ourselves was great."
The play spawned a second half with linebacker Germaine Pratt's late diving interception and Pro Bowl sacker Trey Hendrickson's two sacks that included a strip.
"When someone touches the ball," Taylor-Britt said, "it's just kind of like hot potato at that point. Everybody wants it, everyone goes to get a touch on the ball."
But slot cornerback Mike Hilton didn't touch the ball and CTB credited him with making it happen.
"It was actually because of Mike, honestly. They saw he was blitzing and they kind of made a little check," Taylor-Britt said. "The receiver ran a hitch route and (quarterback Josh Dobbs) was trying to get it out hot, and Mike ended up coming back off of him, not blitzing, and people look at it always think Mike is coming, so of course, they changed it, and it played out to our favor."
So it turns out CTB's first official NFL interception is a pick-six. The one that ended last year's AFC Divisional doesn't count in the stats.
"We've got to make it a trend," he said.
BURROW's GESTURE: When practice squad wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter II was elevated for Sunday's game in the city his late father became a Cardinals icon with 25 career interceptions, Taylor named him a game captain in II's second NFL game. Even classier, Taylor gave Lassiter a game ball.
But Taylor hinted Burrow made the grandest gesture of all when he made sure Lassiter caught his 36th and last completion of the game. Which was Lassiter's first NFL catch, two yards of pure gold.
"Really, Burrow did that. We got him in the game, but Burrow called the pass," Taylor said. "It was a run. He tagged a run alert on there. I didn't. So the credit's really got to go to Joe understanding you've got a chance to get this guy his first catch.
"And sometimes when you're in those four-minute situations, the DBs playing soft and sometimes your best play is just spit it out there to a one-on-one. Don't give me the credit on that one," said Taylor, alluding to receivers coach Troy Walters. "Troy got him in the game there at receiver like we talked about on that last drive, but Joe's the one who tagged a little route there onto the run and was able to spit it out there to him."
INJURY UPDATE: It sounds like Higgins and No. 1 cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, who missed Sunday with a back issue, may again be late-week calls.