The Bengals head to Cleveland for Monday night's game (8:15-Cincinnati's Channel 9 and ESPN) with a bit of a late-week bounce in the step after Saturday's workout in the IEL indoor facility.
Head coach Zac Taylor emerged declaring sack leader Trey Hendrickson (neck stinger) ready for the game after not working earlier in the week and the Bengals seemed to come out of Saturday's dueling injury reports in better shape after the Browns declared out co-leading receiver David Njoku, Joe Burrow nemesis cornerback Denzel Ward and Pro Bowl guard Wyatt Teller.
The Bengals are also out a leading receiver and Pro Bowler in Ja'Marr Chase (hip) and probably a starting cornerback, too, with Eli Apple (hamstring) doubtful after he missed the last two days of practice and rode the bike Friday. But they're also getting back middle linebacker Logan Wilson (shoulder) after he missed last Sunday's game.
Plus, Taylor said the Bengals aren't putting Chase on injured reserve for a variety of reasons (the Nov. 13 bye, the prognosis), which is all good news after initial reports had him out up to six weeks. An IR stint would have knocked him out of four games, so it must mean they think he has a shot playing at playing Nov. 27 in Tennessee after missing just three games.
"It's not super devastating," said slot receiver Tyler "Remain Calm," Boyd. "He has a nagging injury. He'll be back."
But it does mean on Monday the Bengals are playing their first game without the sophomore sensation since they took him with the fifth pick in the 2021 draft. Still, even though Chase is coming off two games with 262 yards and four touchdowns, quarterback Joe Burrow has plenty of new and old options that begin with Boyd and Tee Higgins, 1,000-yard performers themselves.
They also have a two-time 1,000-yard rusher in running back Joe Mixon, a slippery third-down back with receiver hands in Chris Evans, a slot receiver in Trent Taylor who caught one of the biggest balls in Bengals postseason history last year and a wide receiver in Mike Thomas who has spent the last six seasons in Zac Taylor' system. That's why they didn't break a sweat, never mind the bank, during the offseason trying to add a fourth to the only receiving corps in the league with three receivers each with at least 400 yards.
"The benefit we have is these guys have all been here. They've been in this system," Zac Taylor said after Saturday's practice. "Trent was in the same system in San Fran, so that counts for something. Mike in L.A. So we really feel good about their knowledge, what we're asking them to do, putting them in position to be successful. Burrow has confidence in them. I didn't even mention the tight ends, the running backs.
"Joe has always gone to the open guy based on the scheme, based on the progressions. At times he's worked one-on-one with all three and still has confidence in the others."
Nothing new for Boyd in his seventh season.
After 94 games through transition and triumph, Boyd has lined up inside and outside and left and right with everybody and everyone. He's had 100-yard games with quarterback Andy Dalton opposite wide receivers A.J. Green and John Ross, with quarterback Ryan Finley lined up opposite Alex Erickson and Auden Tate and with Burrow lined up with Chase and Higgins.
He's caught a 97-yard game from Jeff Driskel, a 72-yard touchdown from Brandon Allen and 128 yards from Dalton in the Burrow Bowl. He's had 1,000 yards under Marvin Lewis and Zac Taylor.
"I've proven myself. I've had my 1,000. I've shown I can win my matchups. I did it when A.J. went down," Boyd said after Saturday's practice, six days after his career-best 155 yards. "Moving around, I've been doing it. I've been playing outside. We don't have to scramble our minds about different positions to go to. Now I'm moving around a little bit, but the only difference is maybe a tad few more targets, but I still have my same role."
What Boyd appreciates about Zac Taylor's scheme is that any receiver can be put in any positon at any time and it's easy enough not to befuddle the mind.
"Our receivers have always been movable arts. It's not just Ja'Marr playing X, Tee is Z, TB is F. They get moved around all the time," Zac Taylor said. "So they've always had to have intimate knowledge of the playbook because they can be put in anywhere and have to execute. So this doesn't really change anything for them. We're asking them to do things that they've always done."
Boyd went through this when Green was having a hellacious year in 2018. Green was on pace for more than 1,300 yards when he injured his toe and Boyd stepped up to have his first 1,000-yard season. Then when Green suffered a season-ending injury the next year in Zac Taylor's first practice, Boyd went for 1,000 again.
"Not going out there and overwhelming yourself," Boyd said. "Don't go out there thinking you have to do too much to fulfill Chase's role. Tee and I both don't have to go for 200 yards to win the game. We just go out there, play-by-play, coaches are putting us in positions to win and we're going to go out there and win."
With backup wide receiver and special teams ace Stanley Morgan (hamstring) ruled out with Chase, look for wide receiver Trenton Irwin to get the call from the practice squad. With backup slot Trent Taylor, also the punt returner, playing 13 of this season's 35 offensive snaps last week, he can probably do both. But Irwin is also reliable when it comes to catching punts.
As expected, backup nose tackle Josh Tupou (calf) has been ruled out, leaving the Bengals without their top two nose tackles against Cleveland's No. 3 run game. Last week, their depth helped hold the Falcons' top five run game to 2.7 yards per rush.