The Cincinnati Bengals are preparing to face an all-time great quarterback, but Tom Brady isn’t the focus.
This week with a road game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bengals motto of “they have to play us” could be tweaked to “they have to play Joe Burrow.”
Cincinnati (9-4) plays at Tampa Bay (6-7) on Sunday and carries a five-game winning streak, its longest midseason win streak since 2011. The Bucs lead the NFC South, despite their losing record. They have lost two of their last three games, including Sunday’s 35-7 defeat at San Francisco.
Bengals right guard Alex Cappa said his team is feeling confident but staying focused on the task at hand this week as they continue to try to climb toward a top seed in the AFC.
“Every week is different, honestly,” Cappa said. “So it’s not really about a streak on anything like that. I’d say the Monday you come in; the vibes are definitely based on the game the day before. But the rest of it is just business as usual. It’s the day after the game that really sets the vibes. The rest of the week is just work. No matter what you have the rest of the week, it’s just about getting ready.”
Burrow didn’t have his best day Sunday against the Browns but did enough to get the win without three of his top receivers, and he remains one spot ahead of Brady in the passing statistics leaderboard – with 100 yards more than “The GOAT.” Tampa Bay brings the fifth best passing offense in the league and Brady has the most passing attempts.
“He’s one of the best that ever played the game,” defensive tackle B.J. Hill said of Brady. “He plays at a high level, even at his age. He plays like he’s 25, 24, whatever. He still has it in him. I’m excited for this test that we have this week. He’s one of the best out there.”
Mike Evans (805 yards, three touchdowns on 59 catches) and Chris Godwin (702 yards, two touchdowns on 72 catches) have been Brady’s top targets, while running back Leonard Fournette follows with 380 yards and three touchdowns on 55 receptions to go along with his team-leading 524 yards rushing.
When Fournette isn’t carrying the ball, Rachaad White has been fairly productive, adding 370 yards and one touchdown on 96 attempts, but the Bucs rank last in all of the rushing categories.
On his weekly SiriusXM “Let’s Go!” podcast with Larry Fitzgerald and Jim Gray, Brady discussed this week’s matchup as a tough one for the Bucs.
“Great team, great young quarterback, fairly tough defense,” Brady said. “Good skill players. They do a lot of things well. We’re gonna have to put everything we got into it. Like everything we got, mentally, physically, emotionally. There’s a lot of things this time of year that can pull your focus away from where it needs to be. But we gotta put everything into it if we’re gonna beat a good team.”
Tampa Bay’s defense, led by linebacker Devin White (99 tackles, 5.5 sacks), has been a strong suit this season. The Bucs rank ninth in scoring defense (19.5 points per game) and 10th in net defense (320.7 yards per game), and they have allowed the sixth fewest passing yards (195.3 per game). The Bucs also rank 10th in third-down defense, allowing conversions on just 37.6 percent of those situations.
Hill said the Bengals always have a chance with Burrow, though.
“I’m glad he’s on my team,” Hill said. “I’ll tell you that. I think he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He proves it each and every week. To have him on our team just means a lot. It takes a lot of pressure off the defense when you’ve got a quarterback ... not just a quarterback, a whole offense. They’ve been rolling lately. Just having that whole offense makes our job easier.”
Bengals at Buccaneers, 4:25 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
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