A lot of “what if” scenarios have been tossed around of late, most of them revolving around Joe Burrow. How would the Bengals’ season finished if Burrow stayed healthy? Would they be pushing .500 with wins over Washington, New York and Miami to go with a statement win over Pittsburgh?
Tee Higgins would’ve loved to find out.
Leading up to Sunday, Higgins had seen his production drop off substantially since his rookie teammate was carted off Washington’s field over a month ago. From Weeks 1-10, Higgins averaged a stellar 2.00 yards per route run (per Pro Football Focus), which put him in the top 25 for receivers with at least 20 targets during that timeframe. From Weeks 12-15, his average was just 1.59, putting him outside the top 40 of qualifying receivers.
Needless to say, Sunday’s performance was refreshing to see.
Higgins’ 99 yards on six catches netted him a solid 2.83 yards/routes run, and his day didn’t even start very well. Two of his first three targets were drops, one being much more damning than the other, but he soon got into a groove with Brandon Allen looking like this year’s Josh Allen.
The touchdown has gotten the most attention, and rightfully so, but the other three receptions featured deserves acclaim as well. His tracking ability on the first deep pass combined with his balance to get not one, not two, but three feet in bounds is all the more impressive with him still maintaining clean separation from the cornerback. And that stutter-go after the release? *chef’s kiss*
You can live with the occasional drops when Higgins can pull off those two catches later in the fourth period. When he had to highpoint the ball on the first play of the final quarter, he made sure to secure it completely when coming down and facing contact. On the other catch, you can see the ball move just a tad as it hit his hands, and to be able to fully secure it away from his frame with a defender wrapped over the top of him is nothing short of exemplary.
But let’s go back to that touchdown, because it was marvelous.
Higgins can’t even get his right hand under the ball with the cornerback’s hand in his frame at the catch-point, so Higgins lets the ball fall into his left arm and fights to get both hands on it as he’s falling down. You’d think there’s no time for him to be getting his feet in bounds while he’s making his descent, but he already took care of that when the ball landed in his grasp. For good measure, he managed to land his right knee in bounds with his left foot firmly planted in the green turf.
Complete synchronization and balance, and what an absolute dime from Allen.
We’ve talked throughout the year how Higgins has done relative to other rookie receivers. He remains in second place in yards and in the top five in yards/routes run, but his place in Bengals history has become more pressing news.
Higgins’ 67 receptions has him tied with Cris Collinsworth for Bengals’ rookie record. He’s still fourth in yards behind A.J. Green, Collinsworth, and Eddie Brown, and he’s unlikely to match Green and Collinsworth’s rookie yardage marks, but he only needs 35 yards on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens to pass Brown. In what might be Green’s last game with the Bengals, it would be fitting for both he and Higgins to go off against a team that Green has terrorized in the past.
Logan Wilson (ankle) missed his second-straight game and he may not play another snap this season. We’ll have to see if he practices this week for the first time since suffering his injury against the Dallas Cowboys back in Week 14.
Jordan Evans (hamstring) couldn’t play in this game either, so the depth behind Germaine Pratt and Josh Bynes was put to the test.
Like last week, Akeem Davis-Gaither played a little over a dozen snaps and Markus Bailey played a little bit less. In just seven defensive snaps, Bailey saw some throws go his way. In the middle of the second quarter, Bailey and Davis-Gaither stepped into the passing lane and Bailey ended up being the one to get a hand on the ball.
Young boys Markus Bailey (51) and Akeem Davis-Gaither (59) the only two LBs in this Dime package. They close the window on this throw quickly. pic.twitter.com/vD3z1UHzC2— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) December 28, 2020
That drive would be the second-to-last-time the Texans would not score up until the final drive of the game. Bailey saw one of those scores happen right in front of him.
On third-and-goal at the two-yard line, Bailey was matched up with running back David Johnson on the outside as the Texans went empty. Deshaun Watson saw the mismatch and threw an easy dart to Johnson, who ran a slant against the late-to-react Bailey.
Not even five minutes passed and Bailey was again put in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.
Brandon Wilson returned the ensuing kickoff 64 yards and it was called back due to a holding penalty on Bailey. You can see it at about the 20-yard line in the middle of the field.
It’s been a long year for Bailey. The 23-year old spent his entire offseason recovering from a second ACL injury in just four years after he nearly went undrafted. He’s been the Bengals’ sixth linebacker all season, and with both Wilson and Evans out, Bailey was bumped up to the second-string for this game.
Mistakes will happen for rookie linebackers; Wilson and Davis-Gaither certainly made plenty early in the season. Bailey’s a smart player, though. He’ll bounce back when he gets another chance.