Bengals’ Chase continues to make statement with his hands — and his fingers

Reigning offensive rookie of the year catches 10 passes in opener, garners attention on social media in viral photo.

CINCINNATI — Teammates and coaches praised Ja’Marr Chase for his performance in the Cincinnati Bengals’ comeback effort against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but days after the overtime loss, a viral photo from the game of the second-year wide receiver was garnering much of the attention.

Associated Press photographer Emilee Chinn snapped a shot of Chase using both middle fingers in a gesture toward Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick after catching a pass from Joe Burrow in the second quarter of the Bengals’ 23-20 loss.

The photo spread on social media, even more so Wednesday after Chase commented in an interview with local media during open locker room time.

“It’s a cool photo,” Chase said Wednesday when asked about it. “I hope they don’t make nothing too big of it. It’s fun to see though.”

Chase said it wasn’t the only time he’s ever used that gesture against an opponent during a game: “It’s just the first time they caught me doing it.”

It also wasn’t the only heated moment of the game for Chase. He was flagged for a taunting after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter after he just missed completing a catch on what would have been a 2-yard touchdown. Chase said he pulled out defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon’s mouthpiece because he was “talking trash.”

Chase, the 2021 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, did a lot of his own talking just with his game. Chase finished with 10 catches for 129 yards and played every snap – all 100 of them for the offense. His first nine catches were for first downs and his last was a 6-yard touchdown to tie the game, one of two he had that should have helped seal the win.

On another one, he appeared to break the plane of the goal line, but coach Zac Taylor did not challenge and later wished he had. The coaches’ replay views up in the booth weren’t clear, and Taylor didn’t want to risk the play being overturned as incomplete.

Chase said he didn’t have a problem with the coaches not challenging because even he didn’t think he got in. He was just focusing on getting his feet down and staying in bounds. The Bengals didn’t convert despite having four downs to move one yard.

“Unbelievable effort by him,” Burrow said. “He’s a unique, special player that you don’t see a lot. And as much as we got him the ball on Sunday, we’ve got to get him the ball more.”

That could be difficult this week with the Cowboys’ defense. Cincinnati travels to play Dallas on Sunday, and “America’s Team” picked off the most passes in the league last year with 26 interceptions. Trevon Diggs, now in his third season, had an NFL-best 11 interceptions.

Burrow said he will have to be aware of who he’s throwing a 50-50 ball to when Diggs is covering him because he can make those plays, but he’s also confident in his receivers like Chase.

As impressive as Chase’s performance was Sunday, the Bengals didn’t plan for him to play the entire game. Tee Higgins left in the second quarter with a concussion, and while others like Mike Thomas stepped up in his absence, Chase ended up just taking on an even greater role.

Cincinnati moved him all over the field. Chase had been practicing some in the slot this summer and in OTAs, and his role was expected to evolve to help keep defenses off balance as they try to adjust to contain him. That will continue to be the case, though Taylor indicated he has to be careful not to overuse Chase and risk injury. It was only out of necessity Chase played all those snaps, but Higgins has been progressing through concussion protocols well and could be back Sunday if the rest of the week goes well.

Higgins missed practice Thursday for personal reasons unrelated to the concussion.

“I don’t think he’s going to get nearly enough credit for what he did in that game,” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “It was a monumental task for him to take on. Moving to all the spots. He moved all over the place. He was running routes he hadn’t practiced, which we try not to do to guys. We try to at least give them a chance to have reps on things. But he was playing in the slot, he was playing No. 3, No. 2, he’s playing out wide, running all kinds of different routes on 95 or whatever plays, really never came off the field. That kind of effort, I don’t think there’s a precedent for that. The last time somebody played 94 play-game was 20 years ago. I can’t say enough positive things and how impressive that feat was. He’ll not get the recognition he deserves for that. But my God, it was impressive.”


Bengals at Cowboys, 4:25 p.m., Ch. 7, Ch. 12, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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