Archdeacon: Burrow-Chase connection ‘felt like old times’ in Bengals’ season-opening win

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) makes a catch past Minnesota Vikings defensive back Bashaud Breeland (21) and takes it in for a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Caption
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) makes a catch past Minnesota Vikings defensive back Bashaud Breeland (21) and takes it in for a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

CINCINNATI – Before the game, quarterback Joe Burrow said he was approached by some of his Cincinnati Bengals teammates. Each had the same concern.

“I had a couple of guys come up to me and say, ‘I hope Ja’Marr comes to play today.’

“I said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s Sunday! He’ll come ready to play!’”

His teammates’ concern was to be expected.

ExplorePHOTOS: Bengals top Vikings in season opener

Since he was taken last spring with the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL draft, Ja’Marr Chase had shown he had a penchant for boasting, but then hadn’t backed it up. At least not since he was on a pro football field.

“I’m going to break every record they have. That’s my goal,” he said when he – like Burrow a year earlier – was drafted out of LSU. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but it’s going to get done.”

But then came the NFL preseason and he dropped four passes in two games.

That brought out the doubters. Fans were hoping this wasn’t a John Ross repeat.

In 2017, Ross – another trumpeted wide receiver – was taken with the No. 8 overall pick by the Bengals and spent four years mostly dropping balls and in the end sulking. The Bengals finally parted ways with him and he’s a New York Giant now and again on the injured list.

In this year’s draft, Cincinnati had a chance to talk Penei Sewell -- the much-sought-after, 331-pound offensive tackle out of Oregon -- and take a big stride in providing Burrow with the kind of protection he should have had a year ago.

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor tried to make everyone believe the team had an adequate protective front last year, but instead Burrow was turned into a pinata.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) passes against the Minnesota Vikings in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Caption
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) passes against the Minnesota Vikings in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Credit: Jeff Dean

Credit: Jeff Dean

He showed great promise even though he was being battered every game. He was sacked 32 times in 10 games, the final one against Washington on Nov. 22 left him, the face of the franchise, as a portrait of pain.

He tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee and within 10 days had surgery and began a long rehab.

This was seen as one of the any miscalculations in Taylor’s first two years as the Bengals boss, a tenure that left him with a miserable 6-25-1 record and several veteran players – a couple he’d made team captains – clamoring to leave.

But Taylor – who is just 38 – says he has a plan to turn around the perennial losing franchise and part of that plan was to reunite Burrow with Chase, who he thought could be an instant playmaker.

Burrow and Chase had turned into one of the greatest pass-catch combos in college football history when they led LSU to the national title in 2019.

Burrow threw an unheard of 60 touchdown passes that season, 20 to Chase, whose herculean season included 84 catches for 1,780 yards.

When COVID hit, he opted out of playing in the 2020 college season.

And when last month’s preseason games produced nothing but drops by Chase, Taylor said he wasn’t concerned.

“I tried to tell everybody there was no concern on our end,” Taylor said after the Bengals opened the season Sunday with a 27-24 win over Minnesota in overtime at Paul Brown Stadium. “It was just guys working on things in training camp. They weren’t real games we were playing.

“The Ja’Marr we were seeing had confidence in meetings, in his approach.

“I’d have been concerned if he hadn’t approached it in the right way. If he was sleeping in meetings. If he showed up late. But it was the exact opposite.”

Burrow wasn’t concerned either:

“He’s not going to bust. He’s going to know exactly what to do. He’s going to be a pro.”

And Chase lived up to that billing against the Vikings.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) runs as Minnesota Vikings defensive back Bashaud Breeland tries to tackle him in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Caption
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) runs as Minnesota Vikings defensive back Bashaud Breeland tries to tackle him in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

He led the Bengals with five catches for 101 yards, including a breathtaking 50-yard TD catch just 35 seconds before the half that put Cincinnati up 14-7.

He punctuated his first NFL score by running through the end zone and pointing triumphantly at the fans and then doing a little victory dance. Soon he was mobbed by his teammates, including Burrow, who had sprinted to him from midfield.

Chase admitted he heard the pregame doubts:

“I’ve been hearing that,” he said. “It’s just trash talk. I just had to block out the noise and catch the passes I was supposed catch.”

After the game he admitted Sunday had ‘felt like old times” with Burrow.

Maybe so, but during the game he had needed a reminder after his long TD catch.

“Ja’Marr came off the field and told me, ‘I’m glad you didn’t overthrow me!’” Burrow said with a laugh. “I said, ‘How many times we do this, Man? C’mon. You’ve seen it over and over again!’”

And after Sunday you get the feeling that’s the way it’s going to be in many more games this season.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) passes against the Minnesota Vikings during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Caption
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) passes against the Minnesota Vikings during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Credit: Jeff Dean

Credit: Jeff Dean