Bengals defense gets a boost with return of Bates

Credit: Jeff Dean

Credit: Jeff Dean

CINCINNATI -- Jessie Bates already knows what he will do if he happens to intercept a pass from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The Cincinnati Bengals free safety says he would walk up to Rodgers and ask for his autograph.

Cincinnati (3-1) plays host to Green Bay (3-1) on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, and Bates already has a running list of quarterbacks he has picked off: Ryan Tannehill twice, Joe Flacco (his first one), Derek Carr, Philip Rivers, Jameis Winston (returned for a touchdown) and Baker Mayfield, though he says that one “doesn’t really count.” He also intercepted Robert Griffin III and Alex Smith and says he should have had Ben Roethlisberger intercepted twice but dropped both of them.

Now, he wants to add Rodgers to that list.

“That should be anybody’s goal as a safety in this league,” Bates said Thursday. “There are a bunch of really good quarterbacks. That’s something I look forward to.”

Bates comes into this week especially hungry for action after missing a game for the first time in his four-year NFL career. He was sidelined for last week’s Thursday Night game against the Jaguars because of a neck injury but returned to practice Monday and has been cleared to play Sunday after a full week of participation with no limitations.

The 2018 second-round draft pick had played and started every game since his he joined the team as a rookie. The Bengals also will have safety Ricardo Allen available after activating him from injured reserve Friday with guard Xavier Su’a-Filo (knee) going on IR.

It was definitely weird, but I looked at is as an opportunity to hit the reset button early,” Bates said. “We have our bye week in Week 9, this was kind of my bye week to reset my mentality. My family came in for the Thursday night game, on Friday we had the whole weekend off. I stayed in Cincinnati with myself. I really enjoyed it. … I almost broke the most consecutive starts for a defensive player if I had one more, that sucks. It is what it is.”

Bates injured his neck in the Week 3 game against the Steelers. He finished the game and thought he was fine until he noticed how stiff his neck was after the game.

Even then, he thought it would pass. Bates said he wanted to play last Thursday against the Jaguars but was glad he didn’t push it.

For me, it was scary when I had the hit,” Bates said. “I laid there a little bit, finished the game and felt fine. If you do an MRI on any safety in this league on their neck, there will be something that shows there, especially the day after a game. I really thought I could play on Thursday. I was pushing to play, but the neck is something you can’t just go out there and say OK. It’s my neck, and I took it seriously. I did the right things outside the building as well, and I thank everyone outside the building for getting me back to where I am as well.”

Bates said he tried to “play it cool” on the sideline and just watch the game against the Jaguars, but his energy picked up throughout the night to get the fans involved. The Bengals came back from a 14-0 halftime deficit to win 24-21.

That’s something I’ve got to do better at as a player, talk to players and tell them what I’m thinking and why I do the things that I do instead of keeping it a secret. It’s a happy medium part to that, I wanted Brandon Wilson to be confident and play and not talk his ear off all night. It was definitely a different opportunity.”

The Bengals missed Bates’ presence on the field in terms of what he brings defensively but also as a leader.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo counts on Bates to keep guys accountable and level-headed. That especially will be needed this week against Rodgers.

“It’s always good to have our starters out there, Jessie included with his experience calming things down when things might not go exactly how you want it, but by the same token, having a feel of what to expect,” Anarumo said. “So yeah, it’s definitely good to have him back and will help us in this situation.”

Bates said this will be the biggest test for the defense so far.

“It’ll be a bigger test because on every level, in the wide receiver room, running back room, quarterback, they’re all top tier players in this league,” Bates said. “That’s why it’ll be more of challenge for us. Nothing against the teams we played before because we have played other Hall of Fame quarterbacks, but it’s a big deal. This is a really good offense, very explosive. Excited to see how we can come out.”


Packers at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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