Higgins, Boyd step up on quiet day for Chase

Cincinnati Bengals' Tee Higgins, left, catches a pass in front of New York Jets' Bryce Hall during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)
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Cincinnati Bengals' Tee Higgins, left, catches a pass in front of New York Jets' Bryce Hall during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

Credit: Noah K. Murray

Credit: Noah K. Murray

CINCINNATI -- Just as Ja’Marr Chase was starting to appear unstoppable, the New York Jets were able to make the Cincinnati Bengals rookie receiver look human.

That wasn’t the big problem for the Bengals offense, though. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd stepped up as expected with the Jets focusing on Chase, and had the running game been able to get going, the offense might have been able to do more to put the Jets out of reach.

Regardless of the loss, Sunday was what the Bengals anticipated from their receiver corps – when one player isn’t having a good day, the others make up for it. They look to challenge the Cleveland Browns (4-4) next in the first Battle of Ohio matchup of the season at Paul Brown Stadium.

“They (the Jets) were pretty hell bent on not allowing that to happen,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said when asked if he noticed the Jets trying to keep Chase from beating them. “It was smart by Joe to not force some balls into cloud coverage or double coverage. ... We feel like we’ve got plenty of weapons to go down the field so it doesn’t have to always be Ja’Marr. We’ll be able to react accordingly when they try to take that away. That’s why you saw us throw some underneath stuff where he was pretty wide open, he caught it and had some nice catch and runs as well.”

Higgins had a 54-yard reception as part of his big day with 97 yards on four catches, and Boyd finished with 69 yards on five catches with a long of 21.

For Higgins, the performance was a needed lift after he was disappointed with his start to the season, recently giving himself a “C” grade. The second-year player had high expectations after nearing 1,000 yards as a rookie – finishing with 908 yards and six touchdowns last season – and he had to miss the Week 3 and 4 games against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville because of a shoulder injury.

Sunday felt like a step forward, he said.

“It definitely was,” Higgins said Monday. “These last few games I haven’t really been making that many impact plays, but that definitely helped. Being able to come off that injury and make plays. It feels good.”

Higgins’ 54-yard catch in the third quarter set up a Joe Mixon touchdown for a 24-17 lead, but he also had an impressive one-handed grab on a third-and-6 deep pass to the 2-yard line in the second quarter with the game tied at 7 to set up a Chase touchdown reception.

Taylor said he wasn’t surprised to see those kinds of plays from Higgins, but it was good to see him getting back to his 2020 production.

“That’s the expectation we’ve had for Tee,” Taylor said Monday. “It was good to see him make some plays down the field. That’s really how he finished strong the last eight games last season. Every 50-50 ball that went up down the field, he caught. Whether it was inbounds or out of bounds last year. That’s what we see from Tee in practice. He’s had a couple opportunities early in the season that haven’t completely gone his way. One thing that happens is Tee’s so big and physical, guys are going to have to be physical back with you. They’re gonna have to grab you and pull your arms down and you’re not always going to get that call as a big receiver.

“As much as we’re going to fight for it, he understands he’s got to be strong at that point of attack. And he did that (Sunday). He went up and got that ball on that critical third down that got us down to the 3-yard line. I mean he is strong and fast on that ball he caught for 41 yards down the field on the numbers, on the field post, and he did a great job just running to the space and letting Joe go get him. His strengths are really starting to show up and we’re always counting on Tee. We know he can step up in those big moments for us.”

The Bengals had to do more in the passing game Sunday with the running game not clicking. Joe Mixon had 33 yards on 14 carries for an average of 2.4 yards per carry, and Cincinnati managed just three first downs by rushing. The Jets entered the game with the worst running game in the league and managed more yards (97) and rushing plays (27).

Cleveland boasts the league’s third-best run defense, allowing just 84.75 rushing yards per game.

“The linebackers weren’t respecting the play-action,” Higgins said of why the running game wasn’t effective Sunday. “They weren’t breaking down so Joe could put it right over the linebackers’ backs. We’ve got to get that run game going. Once we get that run game going, the passes are going to open up for sure.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Browns at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1290, 1530, 95.7, 102.7, 104.7

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