Bengals’ buoyed by Burrow’s presence -- ‘He is the leader of the football team’

QB went down with season-ending injury in last week’s loss to Baltimore

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said last week he plans to be around the team as much as possible despite his season coming to an end due to a torn ligament in his wrist.

On Monday, he attended the team’s walkthrough and was in the locker room afterward during the time it was open to media. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said his presence still provides a big lift to the team. The Bengals will take whatever they can get from the injured quarterback’s involvement on the sidelines and in the locker room, especially this week as they prepare for their first full game without him this season.

The Bengals (5-5) host the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) on Sunday.

“His presence is as big as anything,” Callahan said. “He is the leader of the football team, the franchise.”

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Burrow’s surgery has not yet been scheduled, as the team is still seeking more information on that process. But Taylor did confirm that even if Cincinnati makes a playoff run, it is unlikely Burrow would be able to come back in time to be a part of it.

The team is moving forward with Jake Browning as the starter and AJ McCarron as his backup, and on Monday, the Bengals signed former Loveland High School standout Drew Plitt to the practice squad to add a third available quarterback to the room. Plitt originally was a college free agent signee of the Bengals in 2022, playing in two preseason games last year before being waived. He played in five games for the Arlington Renegades of the XFL during the 2023 season.

Offensive lineman Jaxson Kirkland went on the practice squad injured list, opening a spot, and on Monday, the Bengals also cleared rookie running back Chase Brown to practice by designating him for return from IR, opening the 21-day window to activate him to the roster.

Taylor said he’s been encouraged by how players have handled the news of Burrow’s injury, and the key now is just focusing on Pittsburgh and not worrying about anything else.

“It’s something this team has always done, is block out the noise and just focus on week to week,” Taylor said. “You’ve seen this team go through many things over the course of this season, previous seasons. One thing you know is that they’ll always respond the right way. They’re made of the right stuff. That’s a big part of building this team is making sure of the character you get in there. Excited to go back to work this week. I think we all feel pretty fresh coming off that weekend. Just excited to get back on the field Sunday and go play a game.”

Taylor said the Bengals believe they can still win with Browning, and “that’s why he’s getting this opportunity.” Now others have to step up as well.

“Everybody is taking it upon themselves during this last stretch of the season to play your best football,” Taylor said. “We have a lot of great players on this roster and in this locker room. I’m excited to watch everybody continue to step up and get back where we need to be.”

Getting some players back from injury would help, but Taylor didn’t offer much insight into whether guys like Sam Hubbard and Tee Higgins could be available Sunday. Hubbard said Monday he didn’t want to speak about his injury and Higgins did not speak to media.

Hubbard has missed the past two games with an ankle injury, and Higgins was out both of those games as well because of a hamstring injury he suffered in practice ahead of the Week 11 game against Houston. Cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt also is working through an injury, which Taylor called a thigh bruise, and he’s “day-to-day.”

“I think improving through the weekend, so we’ll see once we get to Wednesday kind of how they feel,” Taylor said of Hubbard and Higgins.

The game Thursday gave some extra time for players to recover, and Taylor said Browning will benefit from a full week of practice. He runs the offense similarly enough to Burrow in terms of their qualities, that it shouldn’t be a big adjustment for the rest of the team, especially considering Browning worked with the first team offense so much during training camp while Browning was out with his calf injury.

“As you build a quarterback room, you’re looking for guys that play similarly to what your starter does,” Taylor said. “I haven’t been in too many rooms where you’re finding somebody that’s drastically different style than the starter because they’re not going to get a lot of reps over the course of the season. We’re fortunate with Jake that he got the majority of the reps in training camp and the times that Burrow missed. So I think he’s as confident as he could possibly be at this moment.”

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