The Bengals quarterbacks famously play a form of Jeopardy the night before a game as a way of sharpening their knowledge of the next day's game plan and now they're involved in the NFL's biggest guessing game.
Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Burrow is questionable for Monday night's game at Paycor Stadium (8:15-Cincinnat's Channel 5 and ESPN) with his strained right calf and head coach Zac Taylor said the decision could go right up to game time.
"We'll see," said Taylor after Saturday's practice. "We've still got two days. Longer than 48 hours. It's day-to-day conversations."
Burrow went limited for the second straight day and Taylor indicated Burrow and backup Jake Browning shared snaps but wouldn't say how he distributed them.
"He looked good," is pretty much all Taylor allowed.
Asked how they were balancing trying to stave off an 0-3 start along with Burrow's long-term health, Taylor said, "It's all part of the conversation."
No one seems to have a solid answer on Burrow's status. Ask one teammate and he says he's not. Ask another teammate and he says he is.
Asked if would opt to play Browning because of his mobility against the man who wrecked the Bengals' bid to win the Super Bowl, Rams All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Taylor pointed to the Titans' monstrous tackle they face next week in Tennessee.
"It's every week," Taylor said. "Next week it's Jeffery Simmons. Then who is it after that? It is what it is."
Donald himself thinks Burrow is going to play in what would be their first meeting since Donald took him down on the last play of Super Bowl LVI.
"I expect him to play," Donald told the L.A. media Friday. "I know he is a tough guy. So my mindset is he's going to be out there healthy and playing how he needs to play. So our job is to go through this game plan, obviously practice it, get used to it, feel comfortable with it, understand what we need to do, and then execute it come Monday."
Taylor said it's doubtful that Burrow would be active if he doesn't play. That makes the freshly-signed Reid Sinnett next off the bench in what would be his NFL debut if he played.
It would also be Browning's NFL debut after five seasons in the league as mainly a practice squad player. But three of them have been in the Bengals' system and that has Taylor encouraged. Particularly after he took so many reps in training camp during Burrow's 34-day absence in the preseason.
"Part of the reason Jake is here is his confidence. Just the way he operates and the confidence he has," Taylor said. "And that's really shown this week because he's had more opportunity this week than he has in the past year. Plenty of opportunity in training camp. I like what I've seen from Jake in the way that he's operated."
MCCARRON RETURNS: For the second straight week the Bengals welcomed back a popular AJ to the fold. Last week it was Ruler of the Jungle A.J. Green. On Saturday it was old friend Raymond Anthony McCarron Jr., when he signed on with the practice squad in the Bengals' bid to shore up their quarterback depth.
The two AJs authored one of the greatest and short-lived moments in Bengals history. A 2014 fifth-rounder of the Bengals, the 33-year-old McCarron lit up as he walked past the tunnel to the Paycor Stadium field on the way to Saturday's workout and was reminded of the 2015 Wild Card Game. Making his fourth straight start in place of the injured Andy Dalton, McCarron capped a 16-point fourth quarter with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Green with 1:50 left for a 16-15 lead before the Steelers pulled it out at the gun.
"I still remember throwing that touchdown pass and the way the crowd erupted is something I'll always remember," McCarron said. "Listen, I was talking to my brother yesterday. I've always dreamed of being able to come back to Cincinnati where it all started and try to finish out my career there. I don't think I'm close to being done playing. But just to be able to have that opportunity to come back, I'm very thankful for that."
McCarron has thrown 41 NFL passes since he left the Bengals after the 2017 season with stints in Oakland, Houston, and Atlanta, and hasn't played since he completed his lone pass in the 2020 finale.
He tore his ACL the next season with the Falcons but rebounded earlier this year to post a 108.4 passer rating for the XFL's St. Louis Battlehawks, where he had 24 touchdowns, six interceptions, and completed 68.8 percent of his 295 passes.
McCarron and wife Katherine are living the good life with their three sons in his hometown of Mobile, Ala., and he says it was seven-year-old Raymond Anthony "Tripp," McCarron III, a Cincinnati native, who inspired him to keep playing.
"My oldest wanted to see me play. He hadn't seen me play since I got hurt and coming back from that, he watched me rehab," McCarron said. "I kind of wanted to show him if you get hurt, you can come back from injury and still play at a high level. It's fun to have him and the boys a part of it."
McCarron's agent alerted him to the Bengals' interest as the client was en route to coaching his sons' practice. Four-year-old Cash is playing up with Tripp's team, but he says two-year-old Cruz looks like "he's going to be a monster. He's going to be the biggest."
With rookie punter Brad Robbins wearing his Alabama No. 10 and wide receiver Tee Higgins wearing his Bengals' No. 5, McCarron waved to the media room as he walked to his workout with Trace McSorley on the Kettering Health Practice Fields. Before that he briefly met Burrow for the first time and says he's a fan of his fellow SEC national championship quarterback.
"He's awesome, super talented," McCarron said. "As another quarterback, I admire the moxie and swagger that he plays with and keeping his confidence whatever happens on the field. He keeps coming back and slings it and plays the game like he always does. It's fun to watch."
Even though he threw his last pass as a Bengal six years ago under head coach Marvin Lewis, there is plenty of familiarity at Paycor. Quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher was an offensive assistant in McCarron's last two seasons here and he worked with offensive coordinator Brian Callahan in Oakland when Callahan was the Raiders quarterbacks coach.
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