“I wouldn’t even say it’s been frustrating,” Higgins said. “Obviously, it’s frustrating with the injuries and stuff, but anytime I can be out there with the guys and get a ‘W,’ that’s all I ask for.”
Higgins suffered the injury just as he was getting back to top form following recovery from a fractured rib that sidelined him for the Week 5 win at Arizona on Oct. 8. In his last game, he caught eight passes for 110 yards and helped the Bengals to their last victory, 24-18 against the Bills on Nov. 5.
Then, three days later, while running a deep-ball route in preparation for Week 11 home game against Houston, he “over-strided” and felt a pull in his hamstring. Initially, he didn’t think it was going to cost him any games but scans showed there was more to it.
Now, almost a month since his last appearance, he is feeling ready to go again. Higgins was a limited participant Thursday but said he was almost doing everything, and he returned for a second straight practice Friday.
“I feel like I’m there but I definitely don’t want to push myself too soon to where I go out there and have a setback,” Higgins said. “I feel 100 percent, but I’m still easing myself in.”
New starting quarterback Jake Browning said he looks forward to having Higgins back, as someone who can provide another vertical threat and also take pressure off Ja’Marr Chase. Browning hasn’t had a chance to play with Higgins since he replaced Joe Burrow in the second quarter of the Week 12 game at Baltimore.
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan has been pleased with the other receivers that have stepped up in the meantime, mainly Trenton Irwin and rookie Andrei Iosivas, but it’s tough to compare any of them to Higgins with his size and ability.
“I feel good about what those guys have done and the emergence of Andrei and those guys seem to keep coming along and keep improving because I do think we have some young talent in the receivers and we’re going to keep finding ways to see what they can do for us,” Callahan said.
Higgins has faced outside criticism he was delaying his return on purpose because of his contract situation. The Bengals gave fellow 2020 draft picks Joe Burrow and Logan Wilson extensions prior to the start of the season, but Higgins is facing the uncertainty of free agency this offseason.
He said he wasn’t aware people were suggesting that, but it didn’t surprise him.
“My health is way more important than the other people who have their opinion on me, but I’m here, and my only thing is I always want to help this team, and I’m glad I’m here, and I’m glad I’m healthy,” Higgins said.
“My thing was I wanted to get healthy so I could be 100 percent to go out there and play at 100 percent to help my team to come out with the ‘W,’” he added.
Higgins said a win Monday could get the Bengals back on track in the playoff hunt, but he also has personal goals he still wants to achieve. He declined to share what those are; however, a typical target is 1,000 yards. Higgins has 328 yards on 27 catches this season and would need to average 110.3 yards per game the rest of the way to reach that milestone for a third straight year.
If he’s able to play the remaining six games, he will have missed almost a fourth of the season, but Higgins said he still has time to achieve most of his goals.
“I’ve still got my goals written down, and I’ve still got goals to cross off for this season,” Higgins said. “Some of them I might not be able to hit, but at the same time, I might. You never know. My goal is to go out and accomplish those goals no matter what.”
Higgins and the Bengals still see “everything on the table” for them with a strong performance at Jacksonville.
Bengals at Jaguars, 8:15 p.m., ESPN, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7