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Wild Card Weekend: Raiders @ Bengals

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The thousands of fans who will attend Saturday's AFC Wild Card matchup between the Bengals and the Las Vegas Raiders should be masked, health officials pleaded Wednesday. 

Citing the rapid spread of COVID-19, which again set case and hospitalization records Wednesday, Deborah Hayes, president and chief executive officer of the Christ Hospital, and Greg Kesterman, health commissioner of Hamilton County, urged the public to consider the precaution. They argued that masking plus social distancing amid the surge of the highly transmissible omicron variant is "a small ask" officials are making. 

"If you're planning on going to the stadium or to a bar, I recommend you mask up," Kesterman said Wednesday at a virtual COVID-19 briefing. "I recommend after you take a drink of your beer, to put back on your mask. It's really a small ask that we are making right now." 

https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2022/01/12/ohio-health-officials-encourage-masking-bengals-playoff-game-covid-19/9184852002/

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https://theathletic.com/3067051/2022/01/12/he-wants-to-take-your-freaking-soul-how-joe-burrows-personality-fast-tracked-a-bengals-renaissance/?source=rss&utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

‘He wants to take your freaking soul’: How Joe Burrow’s personality fast-tracked a Bengals renaissance

---Paul Dehner

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The tape can be slowed down, sped up, progressions and audibles explained. Throws can be analyzed for precision, tracked for accuracy to the decimal point.

Joe Burrow’s emergence as a quarterback in his second season can be specifically quantified by league-leading numbers and even compared across generations.

What’s made him generational for the Bengals, however, and hit fast-forward on a Bengals franchise renaissance doesn’t come with a Pro Football Focus grade or NextGen Stats.

“It’s rare what he has,” head coach Zac Taylor said. “It’s hard to describe. That’s the best way to put it. It’s hard to describe. You have to experience the full scope of it to really understand it.”

Yes, “it.”

Often used, rarely explained.

Those who experienced the galvanizing, uniting force of Burrow off the field in Cincinnati mostly agree there’s an intangible aura about the quarterback that captured hearts and created a team thriving in his image en route to a worst-to-first AFC North title.

They attempt to paint a picture of their quarterback’s profound impact off the field, one he used to inspire a national championship at LSU in such a way that’s the stuff of legend in Baton Rouge.

There’s Joe the chameleon, Joe the communicator and Joe the silently stewing. Then Joe the quiet, Joe the grinder and Joe the engine of swaggering competitiveness.

“All the confidence and the smirking, he wants to take your freaking soul,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “People feel that.”

Do they ever.

In Cincinnati, the upstart Bengals fed off his natural relationship-building instincts and after just two years made a locker room believe they — yes, the Bengals, of all teams — are capable of making history and winning the Super Bowl.

“It is infectious,” center Trey Hopkins said. “He walks around like, ‘Hey, I’m about to kick your ass and I’m going to have fun.’ That’s what you want. Everybody in the building wants to feel like that. Everybody wants to get on board with that person.”

‘He has a knack for knowing what is needed’
Many memes and videos were created and circulated in the aftermath of the Bengals’ 34-31 victory against Kansas City to win the North and clinch a playoff spot.

One stood out.

It showed four pictures side by side, of Burrow celebrating in a different way with different groups of players in the locker room.

“I thought that was the funniest thing I’ve seen and I laughed my ass off,” Callahan said.

 

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While funny, it was also indicative of the most notable aspect of Burrow as a leader in the locker room. He’s found a unique connection with pretty much everyone. He’s a social chameleon.

“He has a relationship with every single person on the team, has a conversation with them,” backup quarterback Brandon Allen said. “He’s a personable type of guy and gets to know his teammates. Defensive guys go up and talk to Joe. Offensive guys go up and talk to Joe. I think that kind of feeds into that leadership role.”

Burrow plays chess with Chidobe Awuzie and bought G-Shock watches for his offensive linemen. He dances with Joe Mixon on the field and recruits Riley Reiff at The Precinct. He called special teamer Stanely Morgan “everyone’s favorite player on the team.” When Ja’Marr Chase went through his struggles in the preseason, Burrow always stood in his corner both publicly and privately.

“I try to do a lot of different things, be a lot of different people within the locker room,” Burrow said. “Try to be relatable to everybody. And then nobody’s going to listen to you if you don’t go out and do your job and put in the work to execute on Sundays.”

You won’t find Burrow giving speeches often. They’ve happened, but are more outlier than a regular occurrence.

“He’s vocal at the right times,” assistant coach Mark Duffner said. “It’s not a monotonous record. That’s a gift he has.”

Through the eyes of 13-year veteran punter Kevin Huber, Burrow’s voice is effective through the individual relationships, not some passionate diatribe. Huber can’t help but notice how subtle, yet impactful the style proves to be.

“He has such a great feeling for what’s needed at any given point,” Huber said. “If the guy just needs to be talked to, you see him talk to the guy. If he needs to be pumped up, he’ll pump the guy up. Someone needs encouragement, he’s encouraging the guy. It’s more so he has that knack for knowing what is needed in a situation.”

What impressed 32-year-old veteran Mike Daniels about Burrow’s evolution as a leader in their two years together was Burrow never tried to be anything he wasn’t last season. He treated everyone the same in a way Daniels compared to his former MVP quarterback in Green Bay Aaron Rodgers, but what stuck out was he didn’t enter with a bulldozing desire to take over the locker room.

“You automatically respect that out of the No. 1 overall pick,” Daniels said. “You respect that because you expect something else out of a guy that goes that high.”

Burrow instead saw Geno Atkins, A.J. Green, Carlos Dunlap, Giovani Bernard and other veterans already in place. Yeah, he was the top pick. Yeah, he was already on every billboard. Yeah, he was instantly the face of the franchise. But even as a rookie, he could read the room as well as he could read the defense.

When the old guard dispersed this offseason, Burrow admittedly assumed a natural ascension.

“I feel like I’ve proven myself to the team and to the league that I’ve earned the right to kind of speak up a little more,” Burrow said.

Burrow understood the right to a voice had to be earned, even for someone dubbed savior the night he was drafted.

“He’s got such an innate ability to understand human interaction and human dynamics,” Callahan said. “There’s nothing about it that’s forced. There’s nothing about it that’s awkward. I’ve been around other guys that, they can be awkward. And they can come across as kind of phony. It’s just not natural for them. His ability to relate to people is natural. And they all love him.”

'He just sits there and stares’

Tight end C.J. Uzomah straightens his mouth and lifts his eyebrow. He’s attempting an impression of a mad Joe Burrow.

“He’ll give you a look,” Uzomah said. “I’ve gotten the look before. You don’t want that look.”

Uzomah’s pulled out Burrow impressions before. They all require subtlety. None more than explaining how the quarterback manifests his frustrations. It doesn’t happen often so recognizing it requires much time spent.

“He’ll take a deep breath,” Callahan said. “Like a very deep breath. To some degree, it’s his way of telling everybody. But he kind of clenches his jaw and he kind of keeps it. It’s like he’s like bottling it, whatever it is, as opposed to lashing out. But those guys always seem to know when he’s really irritated.”

For those who run a wrong route or miss an assignment, the expression of falling short of the standard doesn’t come with stern words or a calculated scene of dirt kicking.

“It’s a feeling, it’s not words,” Taylor said. “It’s a brief, half-second something. Just that somebody should have done better.”

Those looks or breaths happen in the moment: during practice, during a game, during a meeting. The accumulation of moments over the course of a bad practice or game, however, creates a very different view of anger.

“He doesn’t show anger,” Hopkins said. “It shows as focus.”

The demand for better turns inward.

“You notice it if it’s a bad practice,” Huber said. “You will just see him sitting there in his locker and he’s just, yeah, you are not going to go around him. He just sits there and stares. You can tell he’s just going through it and almost doing mental reps to make sure it’s not going to happen again. Him pissed off is just an internal battle with himself to make sure that never happens again.”

What evolves out of this internal battle is one of the most noted aspects of Burrow’s leadership skillset repeated by nearly all those who interact with him. The clear, precise communication in corrections and expectations make executing what the quarterback wants easier on game days.

“It’s not a rebuke, it’s an actual correction,” Hopkins said. “Just, ‘Hey, on this I’m going to need you to do this.’ It’s very quick, to the point, fix the problem and move on.”

This shows up notably with Burrow’s trio of receivers, or “the athletic freakshows,” as he dubbed them on Tuesday. When pointing to the dramatic improvement of the passing game during the year, the precise corrections can equate to big plays.

Callahan specifically mentions a deep bench route Tee Higgins caught against Cover 2 against San Francisco. Burrow spoke all week about how that route against a cloud coverage would need to be run deeper and let Burrow bring the route back with the throw, if necessary. Higgins kept the perfect angle and Burrow hit him for a 27-yard gain to the sideline to set up one of two drives that tied the game in regulation.

“When stuff hits the fan or something isn’t quite going the way you anticipated,” said Uzomah, who has repeatedly this season called Burrow the smartest player on the field, “he’s able to make adjustments, sit us down and just say, ‘Just do this.'”

This happens often.

“He’s very direct with the receivers about what he expects,” Callahan said, “which is where they probably respect him the most.”

‘He’s eager for the fight’

Taylor will walk through the facility when he arrives on home game days and past the indoor turf field connected to the weight room.

Like clockwork, he’ll see Burrow, going through his routine.

“He’s not around anyone,” Taylor said. “No one’s really watching. But every single Sunday I’ve been in there since I’ve been here, I see a process that starts very early in the morning, and he’s very consistent with it. He’s not a guy who’s just about the attention and does things in the limelight so that everybody sees and writes about it. He does it behind closed doors when no one’s watching, when very few see it.”

Even if other coaches and players don’t see it, they hear about it. They feel it.

Burrow talks about understanding the need to set a tone for the entire team. When in the building, that’s nearly always a serious one. He’s about business. He’s about the work. Consequently, so is everyone else.

“When you feel him come in a room and see how locked in he gets,” Taylor said, “what choice to do you have but to follow suit?”

What teammates are following is maniacal competitiveness. You hear this about the great players. They’re wired differently. In the eyes of players, Burrow’s wires are exposed for all to see from the moment you meet him.

“It can be something simple like ping-pong or football or anything,” Allen said. “You can just tell he’s got that competitive edge where he wants to win in everything he does. I saw that early.”

Awuzie arrived a relatively seasoned chess player and Burrow has taken to the game to the point that a board sits in front of his locker. Awuzie won both times they played, but the seriousness on Burrow’s face discussing it shows the cornerback pushed a button.

“I had to get a little better from the first one. And then I started puttin’ a little pressure on him,” Burrow said, then dropping the confident look he’s flashed notably over the years. “I think the next game we have might be a little different.”

Beating Burrow twice puts the quarterback in his comfort zone. This is how Bengals’ players view him as special and what’s translated so directly to why this group believes.

Whether getting recruited from a small school in Athens or having to transfer from Ohio State or willing LSU out of the shadows to one the greatest seasons in college football history and the No.1 overall pick.

The steeper the climb, the bolder the confidence.

“He’s eager for the fight,” Hopkins said. “He enjoys it. That’s who you want to play with. The guy who looks for the hardships, looks for the problems just because he knows he can fix it. I love it.”

A video circulated from Burrow’s early days as a no-name, young backup for the Buckeyes. He’s in a tire wrestling match against a bigger, stronger teammate. As the battle ensues, you see the edge that draws people to him.

“That type of mentality and what he did,” Callahan said, “that’s how he earned everybody’s respect everywhere he’s ever been.”

In Cincinnati, the tire pull was a rookie season filled with punishment and the ultimate, gnarly knee injury. He took 51 sacks this season, played through a dislocated pinky, hobbled with a banged-up right knee that took him off the field for the final seconds of the win over the Chiefs.

“He’s tougher than hell,” Duffner said. “He could play middle linebacker in a minute.”

Oh yeah, all of this after an offseason of rehab from the torn ACL and MCL featuring a return at OTAs, participating in all of training camp and playing the opener against Minnesota. Being there — understanding the message his presence sent — mattered.

“Some people are more verbal with things and some people just go out there and have a stone-cold killer look and just deliver,” Uzomah said. “Joe’s leadership just comes with how tough he is. You guys only see a fraction of it.”

Uzomah’s first Burrow impression was of that look after a wild comeback on Thursday Night Football against Jacksonville. He held the straight face for five seconds in the postgame news conference that night. It came moments after Burrow threw the game-defining pass to the tight end against a zero blitz to set up an Evan McPherson field goal at the gun. He was mic’d up by NFL Films and caught screaming, “You can’t zero me!” on his way off the field.

“You saw it in mic’d up against Jacksonville, you feel the energy he brings,” Allen said. “It kind of goes back to the competitiveness. Hey, we are going to win. People just feed off that competitiveness that he brings to the offense. It doesn’t matter the score. We always believe we are going to win the game and Joe brings that energy.”

‘It’s been a beautiful thing to observe’
On the outside, it can look cocky. The subtle shots at Wink Martindale after launching bombs in a blowout of the Ravens while throwing for 525 yards. The mic’d-up moments. The cigars.

“He’s unapologetically himself,” Callahan said. “He doesn’t bend or change.”

The line between cocky and confident is separated by the work. The focus seen walking through the building each day and standard set always assuring the level of attention is where it needs to be keeps the message grounded.

“That’s a big part of the quarterback position is setting the tone for the week, trying to create a narrative for the week about how you think the game is going to go, and being a positive influence in that locker room,” Burrow said. “The quarterback has a lot to go into it. It’s not just everything you see on the field.”

These aren’t impossible balances to strike. The greats do. What’s remarkable is he’s doing it in only his second season.

“I’m not here to canonize him, but doggone it, he’s a pretty impressive cat,” Duffner said. “It has nothing to do with all the yards and that type of thing. It’s not only his play. It’s his mind, his toughness, competitiveness, his work ethic. All these things are clearly watched by everybody and his teammates. They clearly know, this cat’s got it. It’s been a beautiful thing to observe.”

Now, as the Bengals face their tallest task yet in ending the 31-year playoff win drought and the pressure heightens, a sense of calm and confidence hovers over the team.

It may be hard to describe, but the dramatic flip in the belief of the franchise is no coincidence. Attitude reflects leadership.

“We have great leadership in a lot of different places,” Callahan said, “but he’s the face of it all.”

 

 

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Good work by Dehner. I expect "did you know Joe Burrow plays chess?" is going to become the next "did you know AJ Green can juggle?" 

 

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For those looking for the negative....

I don't believe the Bengals have ever won on NBC's Football Nigh in America either on Sunday or Saturday editions.

 

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It's true. Someone tell Burrow that.

Anyway I think in the past most of them have been unfair road matchups e.g. @New England.

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1 hour ago, HoosierCat said:

Good work by Dehner. I expect "did you know Joe Burrow plays chess?" is going to become the next "did you know AJ Green can juggle?" 

 

I've certainly seen AJ juggle some footballs recently. When he's not throwing blocks in the endzone while the ball bounces off the back of his head that is. 

  • Haha 1

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Zim on Twitter said it is minor (he’s tight with Tee’s family)

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7 minutes ago, Stripes said:

I choose to place total faith and belief in the words of Zim.

It’s the only rational thing to do, really.

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37 minutes ago, Stripes said:

 

So good. 

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2 hours ago, membengal said:

It’s the only rational thing to do, really.

I’m already primed for utter tragedy Saturday. I reject your optimism and substitute my own whisky. Who (Hic) dey!

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Kind of curious, but the organization is putting “team gifts” in every seat before the game Saturday. I think it’s pretty cool that the Bengals reached out to the Armed Forces Ticket Association (Cincinnati) and asked for 60 military volunteers to place the gifts.  Once done, they feed them a light lunch and then they get to stay and watch the game for free.

It’s not like I’m expecting new iPhones or Samsungs. Probably a pom pom or some shit with a sponsors logo on it, but still… I just like that they reached out to the military community for assistance.

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