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Quick Hits: Like Boomer, Purdy Puts NFL Passing Title On Line Vs. Legend; The Chief Who Channels a Bengal; Why J.J. Watt Admires Trey Hendrickson

CB Mike Hilton celebrates during the Vikings-Bengals game in Week 15 of the 2023 season on December 16 at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.
CB Mike Hilton celebrates during the Vikings-Bengals game in Week 15 of the 2023 season on December 16 at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

LAS VEGAS _ Bengals Ring of Honor inductee Boomer Esiason, once again at a Super Bowl as a CBS' The NFL Today member, grudgingly admits it sounds familiar.

That was after he said, "No questions about Super Bowl XXIII."

Here is the NFL's highest-rated passer for the season and big-play artist in 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy going into a Super Bowl against an all-time great who already has two rings in Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

It will be recalled in the Super Bowl that shall not be numbered, Esiason, like Purdy, took the NFL passing title into a showdown with the GOAT grazing in that era for his third Super Bowl ring in 49ers quarterback Joe Montana.

"I interviewed Brock yesterday," Esiason said here Tuesday. "He's calm, poised, confident. It's not too much for him. He'll be fine.

"He's got to be the dragon slayer. He has to go against their guy who is one of the best-ever and he has to live up to the legacy of the 49ers quarterbacks. He's got a lot on his plate."

Asked just how tough it is to slay the dragon, Esiason flickered a smile. Montana turned out to be a fire-eater who torched the Bengals' 16-13 lead in the last drive to swipe a game Esiason had him on the ropes for much of that steamy, swampy night in Miami.

"I don't know," Esiason said. "I was three minutes and 30 seconds away from finding out."

When it comes to experience, Esiason had three more years and 38 more starts under him than Purdy has gone into his joust with what is turning into another NFL Arthurian legend.

And the chief engineer of Sam Wyche's No Huddle offense resoundingly defends Purdy.

"The reason he led the league in passing was the same reason I led the league in passing. Yards per attempt," Esiason said. "That means completing a lot of passes and gaining a lot of yards with those completions. That's why this whole nonsense of game manager and system quarterback is total B.S. Especially when it comes from ex-quarterbacks who couldn't handle this offense."

Purdy racked up 9.6 yards per on his 444 throws, second only to Kurt Warner's 9.9 with the 2000 Greatest Show on Turf Rams and tied with Ryan Tannehill and Chris Chandler. Matt Ryan, Esiason's CBS teammate, averaged 9.3 in his MVP season of 2016. Then came Esiason's 9.2 on 388 tosses in his MVP year of 1988, matched by Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers in their MVP seasons of 2004 and 2011, respectively.

And Esiason says he'll need every yard against Mahomes, a guy he believes has become greater even those his numbers haven't.

"We're in the midst of a dynasty. It was the Patriots from (2001) to whenever Tom (Brady) left (2019). Now it's the Chiefs dynasty in the Mahomes era. He's not been spectacular, but he's been brilliant."

He points to the play in the AFC title game in Baltimore that kept the clock rolling in the Chiefs' scoreless second half and put it out of reach. Instead of draining time with a run on third-and-nine, Mahomes wanted a pass. The coaches gave him a play with three in-cuts out of seven-man protection they had discussed the night before for a key moment. The 32-yarder to wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling put the title away.

"That's being a game manager. He's on top of his game and you can't shake him," Esiason said. "The last time I saw him shaken was against Tampa."

But that was three long years ago in the Super Bowl when the Chiefs lost to the Bucs.

THIRD TIME CHARM? Quarterback Brandon Allen, who backed up Burrow for the first three years of his career, has surfaced at his third Super Bowl in six seasons as one of Purdy's backups. After watching the Patriots beat the Rams in Bengals head coach Zac Taylor's last game as LA's quarterbacks coach and then seeing those Rams beat his Bengals, Allen is looking for his first ring.

When the Bengals decided to move on from Allen last offseason, he still kept in touch with Burrow and backup Jake Browning and touched base with them through Burrow's injuries and Browning's first seven NFL starts.

Allen sees some similarities in what Purdy, the last pick in the 2022 draft, is doing compared to what Burrow is doing as the decade's first overall pick.

Look at Purdy's numbers this past season (31-11 touchdowns-to-interceptions, NFL-leading 9.6 yards per attempt, 69.4 completion percentage, and that 113 passer rating) compared to Burrow's 2021 Super Bowl season of  34-14, NFL-leading 8.9 yards per attempt, NFL-best 70.4 completion percentage, and 108.3 rating.

"I would say mainly the way they see the field and their ability to break and make a play. I think there are some similarities there," Allen said. "I think Joe's pretty athletic, Brock is pretty athletic. They both do a really good job of extending plays, but also finding a throw when they're extending the play."

NO. 21: The Chiefs have their own version of "The Cincinnati Kid." And all you have to know about Cincinnati and the full-blown rivalry with Kansas City is this:

When the Bengals went to Arrowhead Stadium looking for a playoff spot on New Year's Eve, the family of Chiefs safety Mike Edwards wasn't exactly torn.

"They were cheering for me but wanted the Bengals to win," Edwards recalled this week as he waited for his family to join him at his second Super Bowl.

Before never missing a game at Kentucky, Edwards held the standard for Winton Woods' powerhouse high school program and grew up liking the Broncos but following the Bengals of Chad Johnson and Carson Palmer.

"Chad, of course. I liked Corey Dillon and Deltha O'Neal," said Edwards this week of Dillon, the Bengals all-time rusher, and O'Neal, the former Bronco who still holds Cincy's single-season record with 10 interceptions.

That's where Edwards comes in as a true ballhawk, a savvy fifth-year vet viewed as one of Chiefs general manager Brett Veach's shrewd one-year free-agent deals and one of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's valuable chess pieces for the Chiefs' top-tier defense.

Courtesy of ankle injury to starting safety Bryan Cook at the beginning of December.

"To have a guy step in and do the things Mike has done says a lot about him," Spagnuolo said. "He's a real smart football player. A very natural football player. He's instinctive. If we didn't have him, we'd be in trouble because Chammari (Conner) is a rookie and it would have been hard, but Mike's been able to step in and the veterans have a lot of confidence in him."

If that doesn't make you think of Bengals slot cornerback Mike Hilton, who also wears No. 21, Edwards' stat line this season will: One of his eight career interceptions. Five passes defensed. A sack. Two fumble recoveries, one for a 97-yard touchdown return.

"Being from Cincinnati, I'm watching the Bengals all the time. A lot of my family and friends are diehard Bengals fans. I watch Mike Hilton. He's one of the best slot corners in the whole league and he's been it for a while," Edwards said. "He's a very instinctive player. Good in the slot. He's one of the best at disguising what he's showing if he's blitzing.  He'll show he's in coverage and he's blitzing. Or he'll show a blitz and he's in coverage. He makes it hard on the quarterback."

At 5-10, 205 pounds, Edwards has been a pure safety for the Chiefs after playing some slot during his four years in Tampa Bay that included playing 47% of the snaps in the Super Bowl win over the Chiefs.

More shades of the 5-9, 180-pound Hilton, who has the knack for big moments? And who played a little safety this year? Edwards has three postseason picks, one of them in the Wild Card against Miami last month.

"He's got the same kind of tenacity as Hilton," says Solomon Wilcots, a Bengals Super Bowl safety and a voice of Sirius Radio's NFL Channel. "Always around the ball. High football IQ. Versatile."

Edwards knew all about the intensity of the Bengals-Chiefs rivalry even before the New Year's Eve grind job, won by Kansas City on six field goals from Harrison Butker after Browning shot to a 17-7 lead over Mahomes.

"I've seen how the rivalry has been going," Edwards said. "Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes. If you win the AFC you go to the Super Bowl, everybody talking stuff. I'm from Cincinnati so I know everybody hates the Chiefs. Leading up to the game, everybody was talking about how big it was. Even without Joe Burrow and a regular-season game, it was still a big game for us."

WATT ABOUT TREY: First of all, CBS rookie J.J. Watt knows all about the Bengals defensive line because former Texans teammate, nose tackle  DJ Reader, is one of his best friends. So he's clued in on the edges, too, like Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson, the Pro Bowl sacker who finished just behind Watt's brother T.J. for the NFL sack title.  

"I talk to him about all those guys all the time," J.J. Watt said. "Hubbard and Trey. They've got a really good squad down there."

Watt broke into a smile as he pondered Hendrickson.

"Doesn't always wear gloves, right? Goes barehanded. Among football guys, that's like, 'OK. Doesn't wear gloves. That's a little out there.'

But you respect it because it means you play the game a certain way and I think he embodies that … He's a great player. An underrated player. He doesn't get as much credit as he probably should, but he had a great year … He's got some great moves and he's also got power."

Even though Watt is in your living room and no longer in quarterbacks' laps anymore, he's still recruiting. Asked if he thinks the Bengals can keep Reader in free agency, Watt, like a good friend, said, "I want him in Houston."