The Cincinnati Bengals offense has been finding different ways to win, while putting up its two best performances the past two games.
Now the Bengals will be looking to keep that going while potentially adding back their best weapon they’ve been missing for three games.
Coach Zac Taylor said wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase will return to practice this week, but his availability for Sunday’s game at Tennessee depends on how he progresses through the week. Cincinnati is coming off a 37-30 win at Pittsburgh on Sunday, earning their first AFC North victory of the season a week after the bye, which followed a 42-21 rout of Carolina.
“We’ll start working him back this week to see where he’s at,” Taylor said. “I don’t want to make any predictions on that. But everything is going according to plan, so far, and now it’s just a matter of getting back out on the grass and seeing where he’s at and what’s his comfort level, what’s our comfort level? And so that will truly be a day-to-day process. You know really starting today, tomorrow, Wednesday to figure out what it looks like for Sunday.”
The last time Chase was on the field, he caught eight passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-17 win against Atlanta, while playing with an injured hip that turned out to be fractured. The game before that -- a 30-26 win over the Saints -- was the Bengals’ first in 2022 with 30 points or more, and Chase had a similar performance with seven catches for 132 yards and two TDs.
Cincinnati’s offense has been steadily improving the past five games overall and showing much versatility. The one outlier was the blowout loss at Cleveland in Week 8, the first game without Chase. The Bengals lost 32-12 as the offense managed just 229 yards.
Since then, they seem to be hitting their stride going into the final stretch of the season having won six of the last eight games.
“We’ve had a lot of young guys or guys who don’t always get the opportunities make some plays, which was pretty cool to see them do that, and I think that just shows the type of team we’ve got,” said wide receiver Trenton Irwin, who caught a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter Sunday.
Joe Burrow threw for 355 yards and a season-high four touchdowns and crossed the 10,000 career passing yards mark Sunday while utilizing two backups that aren’t usually top targets to reach the end zone. Samaje Perine caught three touchdown passes, and Irwin, a practice squad call-up, recorded his first NFL touchdown reception.
Two weeks ago in the win over Carolina, the Bengals had a season-high 42 points with Joe Mixon recording five touchdowns, including four on the ground. Mixon remained in concussion protocol Monday, and Taylor said his availability will depend on how he progresses through the week. He’s confident Perine, Chris Evans (if back from his PCL injury) and Trayveon Williams can handle the load if Mixon can’t go.
“I just think there’s a lot of confidence in the group that even if we’re missing a key piece that we can still keep it going and that starts with the quarterback, No. 1 and the confidence that we all have in him,” Taylor said. “It starts with the protection in front of him. I think those guys are playing lights out right now. They did a great job yesterday. And then we have a lot of other weapons and we’ve got so much confidence in Tee (Higgins), TB (Tyler Boyd) and Hayden (Hurst) and Joe and Samaje and all those guys and the depth behind them that have stepped up.
“It’s just people continually step up because everybody in this unit is operating at a high rate of confidence. They know that we depend on them so if the ball comes your way, if a carrier comes your way, if a protection comes your way, we need you to step up and the standard’s really high right now and those guys are living up to it.”
Chase would only elevate the offense even more, but Taylor said the team wants to have its players for the longrun and won’t rush him back if he’s not ready. The coaches will remain in constant communication with the training and medical staff this week, but “everything has been positive up to this point” as originally hoped when Cincinnati didn’t place Chase on injured reserve.
Had he gone on injured reserve, Chase would have been required to miss this game, which is now a possibility for him to play.
“It really is hard to predict,” Taylor said. “We told him to stay off of it four weeks, which he did. And so now you get a chance these last couple of days to start to get him going a little bit. And so really hard to make a prediction on, whether it’s a balance of soreness, pain, everything feels great. It’s impossible to make those predictions.”
Bengals at Titans, 1 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7