CINCINNATI (AP) — For the first time all season, Joe Burrow found his top form against the San Francisco 49ers last week for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Just in the nick of time.
The franchise quarterback had struggled through much of the early season because of a calf injury that had sidelined him for the entirety of training camp. One of the NFL's best signal-callers just wasn't at his best.
An uneven 17-13 win over Seattle on Oct. 15 pushed the Bengals to a manageable 3-3 before their bye week.
Last Sunday, two days before Halloween, Burrow was wearing an alien mask when he got off the team bus. When the game started, he assumed the role of superhero again.
Burrow threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns in the 31-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers. His 87.5% completion rate in the game was the best of his career.
“Joe is Joe, man,” said safety Micah Hyde whose Buffalo Bills (5-3) will face the Bengals on Sunday night in Cincinnati. “Last week was a big indication of what they’re able to do on offense with the weapons he has around him. We know that’s their team, that’s their offense, and they go when Joe goes.”
In the previous meeting of the teams, Burrow threw two touchdown passes and Cincinnati’s defense swarmed quarterback Josh Allen on snow-slicked field in Orchard Park, New York, as the Bengals prevailed 27-10 in an AFC divisional playoff game Jan. 22.
The most recent time Buffalo played at Cincinnati's Paycor Stadium, during “Monday Night Football” last Jan. 2, is seared in the memory of everyone who was there because of a terrifying incident that brought the game to a halt.
Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field after tackling Bengals receiver Tee Higgins in the first quarter. He was revived and rushed to a hospital. The game was postponed and eventually canceled.
Hamlin recovered and is back with the Bills, although he is not expected to play on Sunday night.
“I think what happened is in the past,” Burrow said when asked about it this week. “I think everybody remembers it, but is not going to dwell on it. I know he's not dwelling on it, either."
Allen has been bothered by a sore shoulder, but his 71.7% completion rate leads the league. His favorite option, Stefon Diggs, averages 93.5 receiving yards per game.
HAMLIN EXPECTED TO BE INACTIVE ON SUNDAY
As much as he’d like to play, Hamlin told The Associated Press he has no problem with having been inactive for seven of Buffalo’s first eight games this season.
“Since I first got drafted by the Buffalo Bills, I think the first interview that I did, with whomever I spoke to, I told them I don’t care if I had to carry the water,” Hamlin said. “I just want to do my part to win games. ... A team is never ‘I.’ It’s always ‘we.’ So that’s my mission.”
The third-year player’s only game this season was against Miami on Oct. 1, and he was limited to special teams.
The Bills shored up their roster this week by acquiring cornerback Rasul Douglas in a trade with Green Bay and signing free agent defensive tackle Linval Joseph. It’s unclear whether they’ll be available to play on Sunday, though Douglas is a likely candidate to suit up against the Bengals.
Douglas, who had 10 interceptions during the past two-plus seasons with the Packers, is taking over the starting spot for Tre’Davious White (torn right Achilles tendon). And Joseph, who has 13 seasons of NFL experience, will fill in for DaQuan Jones, who is out indefinitely with a torn pectoral muscle.
Buffalo also signed running back Leonard Fournette to their practice squad with backup Damien Harris on injured reserve with a neck injury.
WANTED: AN AFC WIN FOR BENGALS
The Bengals beat the two top teams in the NFC West in consecutive weeks, but haven't managed to beat an AFC team yet. They opened the season by losing to AFC North rivals Cleveland and Baltimore. It was in the Ravens game that Burrow aggravated his calf injury. Then they lost to Tennessee in Week 4 before winning the past three straight against NFC teams.
“There’s a lot of guys on this team who have experienced continued success before, and they know how hard it is,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “And so they’re not going to be fooled by having a big road win and thinking, ‘Oh, we’ve arrived, here in a Week 8.’ Not even close. And so that is the benefit of having the team that we have. They know how hard it is going to be going forward to continue this, and I know that they’re willing to put in the work for it.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Orchard Park, New York, contributed.
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Mitch Stacy, The Associated Press