CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Burrow is cementing his reputation for being able to use whatever he's got and do whatever is necessary — sometimes just enough — to win.
With top receiver Ja'Marr Chase still out with a hip injury and running back Joe Mixon in concussion protocol, the Bengals quarterback leaned on receiver Tee Higgins, backup running back Samaje Perine and little-used players such as running back Trayveon Williams and receiver Trenton Irwin.
Burrow and the Bengals gritted out a 20-16 win at Nashville, supported by a physical defense that limited Derrick Henry, one of the NFL’s best backs, to 38 rushing yards.
“This is the kind of game that great teams win,” Burrow said. “It’s not always going to be pretty. It’s the NFL. It’s not going to be pretty all the time."
The Bengals (7-4) have won seven of the past nine, including three in a row for the first time this season.
With Baltimore's loss at Jacksonville, Cincinnati is tied with the Ravens for first place in the AFC North. The AFC West-leading Chiefs visit next Sunday.
“I think it was a game that we just needed to win,” coach Zac Taylor said. "Our guys were ready to roll, (we) had a great mindset. We know we’ve got another big one next week.”
Perine gained a season-high 58 yards on 17 carries. Williams caught a 24-yard pass late in the first half to set up a 7-yard TD run by Perine.
Irwin, on third-and-12 from the Tennessee 43 in the fourth quarter, moved the chains with a fantastic 16-yard sideline catch, setting up Burrow's 27-yard TD toss to Higgins.
Burrow doesn’t care about style points. He's protecting the ball and adapting to what defenses are giving him. Against the Titans, he was 22 of 37 for 270 yards and a TD, using seven different receivers. He also ran for 32 yards and was sacked only once.
“We wouldn’t trade our quarterback for anybody on the planet," Taylor said.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
A half dozen penalties in the first half cost the Bengals 46 yards and killed some momentum. They finished the game with nine for 80 yards. ... Cincinnati was just 5 for 14 on third downs.
Higgins had a great game as the go-to guy in the absence of Chase, catching seven passes for 114 yards. That included a 24-yard grab to move the chains and then the leaping 27-yard catch that gave Cincinnati a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter.
Punter Kevin Huber is the longest-tenured Bengals player at 14 years. He started the year as the No. 1 punter, but was a healthy scratch again Sunday. He lost his job to Drue Chrisman, who averaged 51.8 yards in his five kicks, placing two inside the 20.
63 — net rushing yards by Tennessee, a team averaging more than 120 yards per game on the ground. Henry averaged just 2.2 yards per carry.
Chase, who has missed four games since going out with a hip injury in Week 7, was back at practice last week and could be close to returning. RB Joe Mixon went out with a concussion in the Nov. 20 win over Pittsburgh and missed Sunday's game.
The Bengals will get a boost if Mixon and Chase are ready to go when they host Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs (9-2). A week later, the Bengals will get another chance at the Browns, who stunned them 32-13 on Halloween night.
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