CINCINNATI — Ted Karras isn’t expecting a warm welcome from Tennessee Titans fans on Sunday when he and the Cincinnati Bengals take the field at Nissan Stadium.
The Bengals have gotten the best of the Titans in meetings each of the past three seasons, including a divisional round playoff game at the end of the 2021 season and a 20-16 victory last year in Nashville.
But while the games weren’t as memorable for Tennessee fans, they likely haven’t forgotten the way Karras expressed his emotions walking off the field following last year’s game after he had been punched by Titans defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons during the game.
Karras shouted “right up yours, Tennessee” and expletives to the crowd. His statements were caught on a video that soon went viral and again made its rounds this week in the buildup to Sunday’s rematch in Nashville.
“No regrets,” Karras said this week. “Justice was served. He (Simmons) got fined $11 grand. We’re gonna be back. It’s gonna be a grit-fest again. I’m sure they’ll have something for me. It wasn’t particularly at the Tennessee fans, but that’s what it was. I’m glad they didn’t get the stuff I was yelling at the Titans before that. It’s a game of a lot of emotion. It’s going to be another battle. This is a team built like an AFC North team, big, physical people and we need to go down there and even up our record.”
The Bengals and Titans both carry 1-2 records into the game, and both are looking to avoid being buried near the bottom of the AFC standings. Tennessee didn’t make the playoffs last year, and Cincinnati is trying to repeat its rebound from an 0-2 start last year to make another deep run in 2023.
Karras expects a hostile environment being on the road but looks forward to seeing a strong presence of traveling Bengals fans in the crowd as well. Asked if he expects to be booed by the Titans fans, Karras said “probably” because even Cincinnati fans were expressing their displeasure at times Monday night at Paycor Stadium
Even that was understandable to Karras, especially after back-to-back false starts turn a third-and-1 opportunity into a third-and-11 and eventually a punt.
“That’s fine,” Karras said. “Cincinnati’s havin’ fun, packin’ the stadium, do whatever you want. You can boo us. Two false starts in a row. That’s fair. I don’t really care at all.”
Karras said the false starts —Cincinnati had three of them Monday — showed a lack of focus, and the Bengals were lucky it didn’t keep them from a win. Early in the season, those mistakes tend to happen more, but Karras said they have to clean those up if they want to keep winning games.
The Bengals have enough to worry about from the opponent without shooting themselves in the foot with penalties.
Simmons gave the offensive line — albeit a much different one — fits during the 2021 playoff game when he sacked Joe Burrow three times, and the Titans finished with nine total sacks. Defensive end Denico Autry and outside linebacker Harold Landry, who also are still starters on the team, combined on three sacks as well.
“It’s not just (Simmons),” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “They also have a whole other crew of guys that are pretty impressive, too. It’s not just him. They have Teair Tart in there. He’s pretty damn good. Arden Keys playing really well, Harold Landry is playing pretty good. I mean they got a group of five guys that can roll in there that can all rush. So we’ve got our hands full. They’re really good.”
Simmons’ production against the Bengals in the 2021 playoff game, followed by a similar performance from Aaron Donald in the Super Bowl, was a big reason Karras was brought in as one of the first free agent signings as part of the overhaul to the offensive line.
Cincinnati managed to keep Donald at bay for the most part Monday, and now will need a similar performance at Tennessee.
Karras isn’t aware of any bad blood between him and Simmons and said he doesn’t hold a grudge from the punch because he doesn’t “have any hard feelings ever,” but he does expect a physical game Sunday.
“Aaron is such a unique player with how fast he is, and his movement is obviously the best there’s been at that position ever,” Karras said. “But Jeff Simmons has elite skills as well, so we’re gonna need to play our very best against him.”
Karras also wanted to share a message to any Bengals fans making the trip to Nashville, reminding them to keep their cool in light of violence that has been happening in stadiums..
“Be careful down there guys, if you are going to wear Bengals stuff,” Karras said. “There’s a lot of fights in NFL stadiums. Really not happy about that. I got my family going to games, there’s fights right in front of us at Paycor. I’m really not a huge fan of that. We really need to kind of curb that. Let’s not lose our minds, guys. We’ve got young kids and my wife in the stands and people are getting knocked out. Let’s be careful and take it easy America, alright?”
Bengals at Titans, 1 p.m., Fox, 1530, 102.7, 104.7