With success comes greater expectations for Bates, Bengals

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) tries to break away from Cincinnati Bengals free safety Jessie Bates (30) during the first half an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) tries to break away from Cincinnati Bengals free safety Jessie Bates (30) during the first half an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Credit: Gene J. Puskar

Credit: Gene J. Puskar

CINCINNATI -- Jessie Bates played in some big games early in his rookie year in 2018, but the Cincinnati Bengals deteriorated in the second half of the season and since then the team has been trying to rebuild.

Now as the Bengals (4-2) head into an AFC North matchup at Baltimore (5-1), Bates is excited to be fighting to remain a contender.

Cincinnati opened AFC North play with a win at Pittsburgh in Week 3 and was competitive in its two losses, including an overtime defeat against the two-time defending NFC North champion Packers. The Bengals went 1-5 in division play in both of coach Zac Taylor’s first two seasons.

“I feel like the last couple of years we’re just kind of going out there, just trying to build something and win a football game,” Bates said. “But now, you’re starting to talk about the top of the division, playoffs, stuff like that. As you’re having success, expectations come with that, and I’m sure these guys in the locker room and myself are very well prepared for that.”

For Bates, it’s another chance to prove his value to the organization. In the final year of his rookie deal, he’s seeking a contract extension, which he was disappointed not to receive before the start of the season.

Several of his teammates have lobbied through the media for Bates to get his extension, and cornerback Mike Hilton was the latest to do so, ending his press conference Wednesday by signing off with the simple unprompted phrase “extend Jessie Bates.”

Bates said he had no idea Hilton had voiced his support that until he got a message from his mom on a group text saying, “Hey, we love the support of the team.” He said he walked up to Hilton’s locker to tell him he appreciated it.

“I would say that this is not the first time that this team has gotten behind me, being named a captain for the first time while all of this is going on,” Bates said. “I felt like I could kind have taken advantage of it, kind of to be that standup guy for this team. Things don’t always go your way in life, but you’ve got to respond the right way. And I always think about my mom’s situation. She’s always worked her (butt) off and she just got a promotion (Wednesday). That (contract extension) will come when God’s timing is the right timing. So, I’m just going to continue to be Jessie Bates.”

Bates got emotional talking about his mom working her way up from making $30,000 a year while raising Bates and his sister to now running a Kroger distribution center and topping the $100,000 salary mark, which was a big deal for the family.

That’s most of Bates’ motivation when he thinks about a contract extension and the chance to set him and his family up for the long-term.

“My mom won’t have to worry about anything ever,” Bates said. “She’s done everything for me and my siblings. I get emotional talking about it, but I just try to be the same me, do what I have to do to receive that (new contract). So, I’m still in the process of doing that and hopefully it’ll happen sooner than later.”

Bates said he won’t let his contract issues become a distraction from how special the Bengals can be this year. He has been a player the team could count on throughout his three-plus years in Cincinnati after the Bengals drafted him in the second round in 2018.

He and strong safety Vonn Bell have been so consistent, they’ve almost flown under the radar at times while much of the discussion about the Bengals defense has centered around the defensive line and cornerbacks this year. The pressure on opposing quarterbacks has taken a big step forward, and the cornerbacks have been battling injuries, but Taylor said “when you don’t notice the safeties, things are usually going pretty well.”

“He has been a tremendous leader for us and a captain,” Taylor said when asked specifically about Bates. “He has always been a mature guy. I got here during his second year, and you see him continue to professionally mature. The game has slowed down for him, he understands his role as a leader, what that means and what that looks like. It has been really fun to watch him continue to evolve as a football player and a leader. He has done a great job for us.”

On Sunday, Bates expects to be isolated on tight end Mark Andrews at times and that will be another good challenge after Andrews hurt the Bengals in that away matchup last year.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson likes to utilize Andrews, Bates is ready for a chance to make some plays against him, as many teams have shied away from throwing the ball his way this season. Part of that, he said, is the defensive line playing well to get to the quarterback and not allow time for deep passes and part of that is linebacker Logan Wilson’s hot start, which Bates admitted he is a little jealous to see.

With Jackson’s ability to extend plays with his legs, throw on the run and use multiple weapons, Bates should have plenty of opportunities Sunday, especially against Andrews, who has 468 yards receiving and three tocuhdowns. Wide receiver Marquise Brown’s leads the Ravens with 486 yards and five touchdowns.

“The thing with Mark is Lamar has a lot of confidence in him,” Bates said. “They came in together, it’s that type of bond like our receivers are starting to get. ... Mark and Hollywood (Brown), he takes the top off a lot of times. Lamar throws it up there, he has confidence he can get it. That’s a very unique dynamic trio they have there.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Ravens, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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