Bengals look to build on ‘statement’ win

Cincinnati will host Buffalo at Paycor Stadium

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals center Ted Karras said Sunday’s win at San Francisco is only a statement if the Bengals back it up with another strong performance in the next game.

The Bengals collected their third straight win, beating the 49ers 31-17, on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif., to complete a sweep of the NFC West. Cincinnati is above .500 for the first time all season at 4-3.

Cincinnati faces another tough test with the Buffalo Bills returning to Paycor Stadium on Sunday Night Football, and Karras said it’s time to start getting some AFC victories.

“Obviously, two years in a row have had some weird starts to the season, and we want to get rolling here,” Karras said Monday. “We got a really good Bills team coming in. So, we can enjoy it for now. I don’t know how big of a statement it is, but we have to back it up with another performance this coming week.”

Cincinnati, which doesn’t have an AFC win yet, got as close to a perfect performance out of Joe Burrow as he’s had in the NFL, completing a career-high 88 percent of his passes (28 of 32 attempts) for 283 yards and three touchdowns, and also adding 43 yards rushing on six carries, including a kneel-down. Joe Mixon’s 87 yards rushing and one touchdown on 16 carries also put the Bengals above 100 yards on the ground for the first time this season, and the defense complemented the offense’s efforts by producing three turnovers.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the game was a reminder to others “who maybe had a little bit of doubt” about his team after the 1-3 start, but he could sense a performance like that building.

“You can feel kind of where the team is headed, the energy in practice, and you can just see the guys continue to raise their level of play and just needed an opportunity to put it all together and each side of the ball gave the other side opportunity to play to their potential,” Taylor said. “(I) just felt really good on the plane, felt really good in the hotel, felt really good in pregame warm-ups. (I) said on the sidelines just that his team was ready to go and there was good energy that they were ready to tee off on somebody and felt like they did that yesterday.”

Cincinnati came out of the game relatively healthy, Taylor said. Trey Hendrickson injured his ankle but finished the game and will be managed through the week with expectations he will play Sunday against the Bills. Otherwise, the team is just dealing with “some bumps and bruises,” Taylor noted.

The Bengals, fresh off their Week 7 bye, have played their best football after the bye the past two seasons, going 12-3 after the Week 9 break during the 2021 and 2022 seasons, but Karras wasn’t ready to say the team’s form Sunday felt similar to the second half of last season. He only noted the first part of the seasons felt familiar.

Last year, Cincinnati got off to a slow start while Burrow was building back strength following missed time in training camp because of an appendectomy. This year, a calf injury took a toll on him and the offense, which then put more pressure on the defense.

Burrow’s improved health following the bye played a big factor in the team’s performance, as the Bengals were able to add in some different wrinkles to the offense, like going under center for 15 plays – compared to the 16 total plays run under center over the first six games. According to TruMedia, Burrow completed 5 of 7 passes for 73 yards on plays under center, and the Bengals had 11 carries for 30 yards, including six for 23 yards from Mixon, on those types of plays, as well.

“I think it was guys executing,” Karras said. “I thought Joe Mixon played really hard. Joe 88 percent completions. Both Joe’s I think played unbelievable. But I think it was a record for Joe, (19) straight completions. We obviously did enough good upfront to make him feel comfortable against the top front seven defense in the league.”

Burrow’s 19 straight completions came close to the Bengals’ franchise record of 20 straight set by Ken Anderson.

Karras said he didn’t realize in the moment that Burrow had completed that many passes in a row, but the quarterback perhaps foreshadowed his out-of-this-world performance with the alien mask he wore getting off the plane in California on Saturday ahead of the game and just a few days before Halloween. The Bengals’ off day falls on the holiday this year, and Karras just might need to borrow Burrow’s mask, as he was still looking for a costume Monday.

“I love it,” Karras said of the mask. “I think his cousin makes that. So, it’s a really cool mask. He had an alien performance so I mean that’s pretty cool that he did that.”

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