Bengals powered by 3 young stars: Burrow, Chase, Higgins
By MITCH STACY
CINCINNATI (AP) Joe Burrow says the Cincinnati Bengals' championship window should stay open for years.
"The window is my whole career," the franchise quarterback said matter-of-factly after the Bengals clinched their second straight AFC North title.
His confidence is understandable given the offensive weapons available: Receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins have gained 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, making them the first pair of Bengals wideouts to do that since Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in 2006 and 2007.
While both have been limited by injuries this season, they've combined to catch 18 touchdown passes and will look for when Cincinnati plays at Kansas City on Sunday in the AFC championship game for the second straight year.
Economics may dictate the future of the star receivers, however.
Team owner Mike Brown acknowledged before the season that finances were already being restructured to be able to sign Burrow, the top overall pick in the 2020 draft, to an extension that will keep him in Cincinnati for years. Based on the contracts of other top quarterbacks, Burrow's deal could put him in range of $40 million to $50 per season.
With the best years ahead for Chase and Higgins, the famously frugal Bengals could have some hard choices.
The 22-year-old Chase - Burrow's teammate at LSU during their 2019 national championship year - was drafted fifth overall in 2021 and made a splash, piling up 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns in helping lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl and winning offensive rookie of the year.
"He's one of the best," Burrow said this week. "Anybody that watches tape can see it. You can double him, you can cloud him, you can have a guy follow him - he's going to get his. You just got to get him touches because of how dynamic he is with the ball in his hand."
Offensive coordinator said Brian Callahan said Chase's development in his second season has allowed the Bengals to put him at different spots to keep defenses guessing. Chase ran out of the backfield at times in last week's win over Buffalo in the divisional round.
"Our job is to move him around so much that they can't pinpoint where he's going to be," Callahan said. "We'll see how that looks like come Sunday. We've done a good job protecting him from getting double-teamed as much as teams want to double-team him. They'll have their work cut out for him to do that."
The 23-year-old Higgins is in his third season out of Clemson. He led Cincinnati with 908 receiving yards when he and Burrow were rookies in 2020.
"I just feel like the older we get, the more we know, the more we learn about the game, the more and more we learn about the defenses," Higgins said. "Then, we got the vet with (Tyler Boyd) teaching me and Ja'Marr all the little things, and I feel like that's helping us out tremendously."
Like Burrow, Higgins has a four-year entry-level contract and will soon become eligible for an extension. Chase is in the second year of a similar rookie deal.
But that's down the road. Right now, no one is looking beyond Sunday.
"It's going to be a tough one, but I believe in the guys that we got in our room," Higgins said. "And I believe in the man that is running the offense - Joe putting the ball in the right spots."
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Updated January 28, 2023
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