Joe Burrow's Business-As-Usual Bengals Go On Road To Court NFL First
The Bengals, 60 minutes from becoming the first team in the history of the game to go on the road and win back-to-back conference championships, spent their last full day preparing for Sunday's AFC Conference Championship game in Kansas City (6:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) doing what they do on Fridays.
Which is hang around Paycor Stadium even after Bengals head coach Zac Taylor says they can leave after arriving back from the weekly practice in IEL Indoor Facility.
Over here were vet center Ted Karras and rookie left guard Cordell Volson shooting the breeze at their lockers after the extra lift in the weight room known as the "Friday Flex."
Over there was slot receiver and senior Bengal Tyler Boyd checking his phone as he waited to get back on a rambunctious ping-pong table manned by the young linebackers.
In there was vet linebacker Clay Johnston and rookie long snapper Cal Adomitis in the cafeteria eating lunch.
"This is the closest team I've ever been a part of," said Taylor of his team that is so close to becoming the fourth different franchise in this century to reach back-to-back Super Bowls.
Since Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow appears to be headed into his coldest game at rowdy Arrowhead Stadium, Joey Frost (and not Joe Shiesty or Joey Franchise but maybe a cameo by Joey Brrrr) held a rare Friday press conference on the verge of joining Russell Wilson as the only quarterback to reach two Super Bowls in his first three seasons.
He's already there with Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger as the only quarterbacks to win at least five playoff games in their first three seasons, but that didn't stop Burrow from spitting icicles as he recounted the week.
"You dragged me back in here, huh?" joked the famously focused Burrow. ""Ready to go. Had a great week of practice. All of our stuff is dialed up and ready to go. We're excited where we're at."
Out here on the blade of Seamless Joe's edge, there is no room for history, legacy or even a deep breath. Only film and an occasional hit on Super Smash Brothers.
"No. Not really. Just stay in the moment. That's all you can do if you want to win these games," said Burrow when asked the inevitable is-he-thinking-legacy question.
"I just think we're in this game back-to-back years and I think if you would've told people that we were going to be in this spot a couple of years ago, I think people would say we were crazy but we trusted the process. Trusted the organization and the front office, and they put together a great team and great people and it got us to this point."
It's a replay of last year's classic title game at Arrowhead that the Bengals swiped from the great Patrick Mahomes in the only game Mahomes has ever lost when he touched the ball in overtime. But this time Burrow seems to come in with enough skins on the wall to classify it as a showdown on the Mount:
_It's the first time in this century the NFL's top two quarterbacks in passing yards per game meet in the playoffs.
_Burrow and Mahomes are the only players in the NFL with 10,000 passing yards a 100+ passer rating over the last two seasons, including playoffs.
_Burrow and Mahomes are the only quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era that have won at least 75 percent of their starts and have a 95+ passer rating in the postseason.
So, no wonder the Bengals defense is not paying much attention to Mahomes' high ankle sprain of last week. The numbers and Friday's injury report confirmed why. Mahomes went full for the third straight day.
"Obviously he can make all the throws with ease. It's his mobility that is a lot better than people give him credit for," said Bengals slot cornerback Mike Hilton. "He's a hard tackle. You have to wrap him up ... He's one of those guys, he's the best at what he does. I told other people earlier this week, as long as he's got that right arm, he can be on one leg, whatever. As long as he's got that right arm, they've got a shot."
Friday's injury report isn't as kind to the Bengals. For the second straight week, right guard Alex Cappa (ankle) and left tackle Jonah Williams (knee) are out and that revamped Bengals offensive line that lost three starters in each of the last two regular-season games and the Wild Card Game gets an even bigger test this Sunday.
They were terrific last week in Buffalo, but now there are this year's 15.5 sacks from tackle Chris Jones and the 12 career playoff sacks from edge Frank Clark in 15 postseason games.
Burrow knows them so well he was asked which of a handful of escapes from Jones is his favorite. No contest. The third-and-eight early in the fourth quarter in last year's AFC title game when Jones engulfed him in a Dick-The-Bruiser headlock that Burrow escaped with an all-world duck. When he took off for the left sideline, Jones kept chase and Burrow had to high step out of Jones' dive before racing for the first down.
"That was fun. Guy is hard get away from. He's big, strong and fast," Burrow said.
But there was also good news. Tight end Hayden Hurst (calf) and cornerback Tre Flowers (hamstring) went full and no one with a lingering injury is questionable.
It was a good time for Taylor to shout out head strength and conditioning coach Joey Boese and first-year director of sports medicine/head athletic trainer Matt Summers. The only team that has played as many games as the Bengals have in the first two seasons of the 17-game schedule are the 49ers, back in the NFC title.
While they suffered more serious injuries this year than last year, the winning streak and the two-year record of 27-12 is confirmation that the intense monitoring of GPS numbers by Boese and assistants Garrett Swanson and Todd Hunt are paying off.
"We work our tails off to make sure we're on top of all that and that starts with Joey, Matt Summers, Garrett Swanson and Todd Hunt they do a great job with the sports science things," Taylor said. "We pulled Ja'Marr (Chase) and Tee (Higgins) out of the Super Bowl practice last year on Thursday because they had hit their max and we wanted them to be fresh on Sunday.
"We've tried our best to orchestrate our training camp practices around the soft tissue stuff to try to avoid all those injuries to make sure we get through training camp, put in the physical work we need and make sure our guys are healthy and that they're not nagging injuries going into the season. I just think that that part of the staff … (has) done a great job coordinating together, formulating a plan, being diligent every single week and not just, 'All right its January what happens what happens.' They stay on top of it. Even yesterday Joey is putting numbers on my desk."
What may not be in the GPS is Burrow's pulse because it doesn't seem like he has one. He has, though, noticed how the Chiefs have amped up their pace on defense with rookies like edge George Karlaftis. The secondary has caught his eye, in particular rookie cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and Jaylen Watson.
"I'm impressed with how their rookies have been playing. You can tell they've improved a lot throughout the season, and they are more sound in their scheme and technique, and they are good players," Burrow said. "And, their D-line is disruptive, and you can tell they are well-coached and they are sound in everything they do."
"Their rookie corners, both of them are getting better each week. You can tell they put in a lot of work for what they do. They're two of the better corners we've played so far."
The ping-pong ball pinged and ponged. The music pounded through the walls. Rookie cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt got back to his locker, the one where he's got a $20 bill taped to remind "there is money on the ground," to be had.
Four quarters from the big one and it was 9-to-5. Someone asked Joey Frost what he had planned for Saturday's flight.
"I'm pretty much done with my film study," Burrow said. "Playing some Super Smash Brothers now and then on the flight. That's always fun."