CINCINNATI -- Minutes after his team's 27-24 win over the Chiefs, Bengals coach Zac Taylor was asked the inevitable question: is Joe Burrow playing at a level befitting a league MVP?
Taylor's answer was quick and defiant.
"Absolutely," said Taylor, who is in the midst of his fourth season in Cincinnati. "Absolutely. He's playing at the level we need for him to lead us to be confident that we can go win every game we play. Whatever those conversations are like, there's no doubt as I've said before; I wouldn't trade him for anyone in the world."
Burrow was also asked to respond to coach Taylor -- among others -- saying that Burrow should be in the center of league MVP chatter. After an 0-2 start, Burrow has led the led the Bengals to an 8-4 record. Led by Burrow, the defending AFC champions have won four straight games.
"It is what it is. I don't play the game for those kind of accolades," he said. "I play the game for those guys in the locker room. I've always said, whatever it takes out of me every Sunday, that's what I'm going to do. I could hand the ball off 72 times and come out with a win, I'm going to be happy."
Burrow threw the ball 31 times on Sunday. He completed 25 of those passes for 286 yards and two touchdown passes with no interceptions. Burrow also ran for a touchdown while becoming the first Bengals quarterback since 1979 to run for five touchdowns in a season.
The reigning Comeback Player of the Year led the Bengals on three scoring drives after Cincinnati had fallen behind early in the second half. His touchdown pass to Chris Evans -- following Germaine Pratt's big forced fumble of Travis Kelce -- proved to be the game-winning score.
"Our team knows what it takes to win those kinds of games," Burrow said of his team's resilience. "It's December now. This is when we start to turn it up and find ways to win these games. We're going to get back to practice, keep getting better, correct the mistakes and move on."
Joe Burrow on the #Bengals win and overcoming adversity. pic.twitter.com/mhO7ZuTOX4— BryanDeArdo (@BryanDeArdo) December 5, 2022
The Bengals won despite not playing their best. Former Bengal Carlos Dunlap stuffed Trent Taylor on fourth-and-goal at the end of the first half, denying Cincinnati a chance at extending its 14-10 lead at halftime. Trailing 17-14, they settled for a field goal on their first half of the second half after normally sure-handed receiver Tyler Boyd dropped a sure touchdown.
Instead of letting those mistakes fester, the Bengals responded with big plays that led to points, even after the Chiefs scored again following Boyd's drop to extend their lead to seven points. Cincinnati responded with consecutive scoring drives that were completed by big defensive stops. Fittingly, it was a big third-down catch by Boyd that helped set up Burrow's game-winning touchdown pass.
"It's tough to leave points out on the field like that, but he responded well and came up with some big catches and big blocks in key moments," Burrow said of Boyd, the elder statesman of the Bengals wideouts. "That's what I'm talking about. Unselfish guys that care really hard to make plays in those moments."
Burrow was the headliner, but Sunday's win was a team effort. He continues to receive stellar blocking from Cincinnati's revamped offensive line consisting of newcomers Ted Karras, La'el Collins, Alex Cappa and rookie Cordell Volson. The line allowed just one sack on Sunday while helping the Bengals rush for 152 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. Samaje Perine ran for 106 of those yards on 21 carries.
"When you have that kind of time in the pocket, it's hard not to find somebody open," Burrow said. "What else this has done is gotten us some more off-schedule opportunities. We're starting to be able to run the ball more now. If something's not open, I still have time to find an escape lane, get out of the pocket and try to make a play. I can't say enough about those guys."
The feeling is mutual between Burrow and his linemen.
"He's one of the best that I've been around," Collins told CBS Sports after the game. "The way that he does the things that he does. You can't replicate that. He's a special human being."
Burrow also pointed to the cohesion he has with his wideouts. Similar to the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" offense of the late '90s/early '00s, the Bengals offense has impeccable timing that allows it to be the aggressors.
"Our receivers really understand spacing and timing and concepts that we're running against zone defense," Burrow said. "And when we're in man coverage, our guys are going to go win because we have three of the top receivers in the NFL. We work really hard, every single day, every single week in practice, to get all of our concepts exactly the way we want them. We have a constant dialogue about what we expect from each route. ... It's a fun offense to be a part of."
Fought for it 😤#ProBowlVote x #TeeHiggins#KCvsCIN | 📺 CBS pic.twitter.com/elk3FAJ3l7— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 4, 2022
Burrow was asked several times about the Bengals' success against Kansas City. While the questions were more geared toward his individual play against the Chiefs, Burrow attributed his team's success in these matchups to the team that the Bengals have put around him. He also pointed to the team's culture.
"We've got players that have been in these spots before," he said. "Whether it's college or last year, we've accumulated players that the organization has done a great job of finding the right guys. It matters to them. They're going to work really hard to put on their best performances every Sunday. The character of these guys. That's what wins games down the stretch, in December, in January, in the fourth quarter.
"We have one of the best locker rooms I've ever been around. You feel the energy in that room every single day. We have the utmost faith in one another that if one unit isn't playing great, the other one is going to step up and make plays to help us win games."
The Bengals' immense depth at receiver has also played a role in their success against Kansas City. Ja'Marr Chase, playing for the first time since injuring his hip in Week 7, caught seven passes for 97 yards on Sunday. Among his big plays was his third-down conversion on the Bengals' final drive. Tee Higgins gave the Bengals an early lead on a 12-yard touchdown catch. He then iced the game with his 12-yard grab that allowed the Bengals to run out the clock.
Higgins appeared more excited after the game to talk about the stops his defense made in the fourth quarter. Along with Pratt's forced fumble of Kelce, Joseph Ossai's third-down sack of Patrick Mahomes on the Chiefs' next drive came one play before Harrison Butker missed his 55-yard field goal attempt. Ossai's sack proved to be the Chiefs' final play from scrimmage.
"Defense played their asses off with the big turnover, they we come down and score," Higgins told CBS Sports. "They they get the big stop, and the offense seals the game.
"We've been doing this for three weeks now. The plan is to just keep it going, keep playing complementary football and it'll take care of itself."
What a play by GP MONEY‼️#ProBowlVote x #GermainePratt#KCvsCIN | 📺 CBS pic.twitter.com/h6CLPN7djo— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 4, 2022
Like Burrow, Mahomes was asked afterward why the Bengals continue to end up on the winning end of these matchups.
"First off, they have a great quarterback," Mahomes said. "A guy who's won a lot of football games, even if that was in college, and now he's won a lot of football games in the NFL. He's someone that competes to the very end, too. They've got playmakers all over there, they're well-coached, have a good defense. At the end of the day, they've executed at a higher level in the critical situations."
Sunday's win was a big one for the Bengals, who despite their recent success continue to wear the underdog tag (Cincinnati was a two-point underdog for Sunday's game). It kept the Bengals even with the Ravens in the AFC North standings (Ravens hold tiebreaker with win over Bengals). And it may be the game that jumpstarts Burrow's MVP campaign.