For weeks, the conversation around Ja’Marr Chase has been about practice. Well, and games. Practice games, really. The No. 5 overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft was struggling to hang onto the ball this summer.
So after a sterling debut in which the rookie receiver led the Cincinnati Bengals in catches (five) and yards (101), his quarterback was not going to drop one of the league's most popular preseason topics.
"I thought he was dropping everything?" Joe Burrow smirked while Chase was still in the postgame conference room.
To be fair, Chase was for a while this year. He didn't on Sunday, however, against the Vikings. The rookie caught his first four targets and five of seven overall in the Bengals' 27-24 overtime win.
Cincinnati needed all of them. Chase's final reception (and target) came late in overtime, a 6-yard completion that put the Bengals near midfield to commence their game-winning drive.
"I tried to tell everybody there was no concern on our end," coach Zac Taylor said afterward.
Outside concern was not without merit. The first-rounder caught just one of five balls thrown his way over three preseason games. Of course, none of those were from his former college teammate. With Burrow working his way back from an ACL tear, Chase, who could have been working off some of his own rust after opting out of the 2020 season, had difficulty creating separation and catching passes throughout August.
In his NFL debut, Chase looked like his college self.
He hauled in Burrow's first completion to a wide receiver midway through the second quarter, a gain of 17 yards on third-and-9. Three plays later, Burrow went back to Chase on third-and-7 for 13 yards. Those set up Cincinnati's first touchdown. The Bengals got the ball back just before halftime and Burrow went right back to his trusted target, hitting an open Chase in stride downfield for a 50-yard score and a 14-7 lead.
With the Bengals victory, the former LSU duo have won 16 games in a row together. Moreover, Chase did not drop a pass in their latest. He didn't have much to say to those who'd been conversing about his previous ones, either.
"That's just trash talk," Chase said. "Block out the noise. I knew I was going to do it, just a matter of time."
It is, and always was, still very early.