Just as questions had been swirling about Mixon’s decline, the sixth-year running back responded with a franchise-record setting day.
Mixon finished with 211 yards from scrimmage, four rushing touchdowns and one 12-yard touchdown catch, including four scores that helped Cincinnati to a 35-0 halftime lead. His rushing yardage surpassed the team’s best rushing total this season, as the Bengals had recorded 133 yards on the ground in the opener against Pittsburgh, and his previous high this season was 82 yards in that Week 1 loss.
“We came out firing, we were physical, and you can just tell from the way the backs were playing, the way the linemen and tight ends and also receivers -- they were blocking their (butts) off today,” Mixon said. “And I’m just very excited that we have a balanced attack today. (Head coach) Zac (Taylor) kept calling the runs, and we basically were trying to be as physical as possible. ... I’m just basically very happy for my team.”
Mixon said he hadn’t paid attention to outside concerns his production might be on the decline, but left tackle Jonah Williams said it was good to see him have a big performance after dealing with the frustration of not putting up bigger numbers sooner.
2. Setting the tone early
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the team had talked about the importance of a fast start, no matter who started with the ball, especially against a young quarterback still getting his feet wet as a starter in the NFL.
Cincinnati’s offense took the field first and cruised down the field to get on the board with Mixon’s first touchdown. The defense followed suit, forcing three-and-outs on the first three drives and then getting interceptions on two of the next three to shut out the Panthers in the first half.
“When you start like that, you know it’s going to be a good day,” Burrow said. “Those kinds of teams, you have to jump out early on. They have a good defense and their quarterback is playing well, they can score points in bunches. You have to jump out early on them like we did and put them to sleep.”
The Bengals finished with 39 carries for 241 yards (6.2 yards per carry), and Burrow completed 22 of 28 passes for 206 yards and one touchdown. Brandon Allen, who finished the game, completed all three of his passes for 22 yards.
3. Defense handled adversity
In the first game without cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, the defense stepped up as hoped. The Bengals allowed just one first down in the first half, got interceptions from Germaine Pratt and Jessie Bates and limited the Panthers to 80 net yards of offense through three quarters.
Cincinnati was also missing starting slot corner Mike Hilton, who was replaced by Jalen Davis, and cornerback Tre Flowers because of finger and hamstring injuries, respectively. Rookie safety Dax Hill exited in the third quarter with a right shoulder injury.
“It’s no surprise,” Bates said. “We got a close group, and we’re very open and me and Vonn (Bell) do a good job of communicating, letting people know when we’re aren’t and when we are in tough positions and stuff like that. Just goes hand-in-hand, from top to bottom.”
Carolina ended up pulling P.J. Walker at halftime, replacing him with former Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who threw two touchdown passes and led another scoring drive to end the game in a more respectable fashion while the Bengals trotted out some backups at key positions.
4. Offensive line bounces back
After allowing five sacks in the Week 8 loss at Cleveland, the offensive line got much of the credit for its blocking Sunday. Burrow was sacked just once, and Mixon said he was just hitting the holes opened up for him.
Williams, who especially had struggled in pass protection against a good Browns pass rush, said it was “really important” to put that game in the past.
“I don’t think any phase in the game was working on Monday, and that included us up front,” Williams said. “We weren’t doing a good job. Today, it was just better execution across the board. It’s just complimentary football. The run game was opening up the pass game and vice versa. And that’s just the way we need to play.”
5. “In a good place right now”
Asked how the mindset at 5-4 going into the bye this year feels different from 5-4 last year, Burrow joked, “Hopefully nothing.”
“Hopefully we come out just like we did last year and win the games we’ve got to win to be in the tournament at the end,” he said.
Taylor said he believes the Bengals are “in a good place right now.” A year ago, they had lost two straight going into the bye, but playing a complete game Sunday and now having a chance to get some guys healthy – something that wasn’t much of an issue in 2021 – should help prepare Cincinnati for a second-half playoff push.
“I’m just glad we took care of business,” Taylor said. “I was glad that our team that our team came out and set the tone and established dominance early in that second half.”
Joe Mixon: A no brainer. The Bengals running back torched the Panthers for 153 yards rushing and scored a franchise-record five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving).
STAT OF THE GAME
241: Rushjing yards for the Bengals, who came into the game 30th in the NFL (81 yards per game).
SUNDAY, NOV. 20
Bengals at Steelers, 8:20 p.m., NBC, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7