For more than three quarters on Nov. 21 at Allegiant Stadium, the Raiders avoided the inevitable.
Their pass rush helped prevent Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow from torching their secondary the way he’s torched so many others this season.
Their secondary prevented Ja’Marr Chase from streaking free down the field the way he streaked all throughout his record-setting rookie campaign.
But in the fourth quarter on that Sunday afternoon, Burrow and Chase finally connected.
On third-and-goal, Chase ran an outbreaking route and found a gap in the Raiders’ zone defense in the back left corner of the end zone. Burrow feathered a perfect pass in between converging defensive backs Brandon Facyson and Johnathan Abram.
Catch. Score. Celebrate.
“We repped it (in practice),” Burrow said that afternoon, referencing the touchdown pass to Chase. “Ja’Marr did a great job of finding the zone back there in the corner. … That was executed very well.”
Their chemistry, of course, dates back to their days at Louisiana State, where they set records, won the 2019 national championship and foreshadowed their respective brilliance on the pro level.
Burrow this season completed a league-best 70.4 percent of his passes for 4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns while throwing 14 interceptions. He led the Bengals to their first AFC North title since 2015.
Chase established an NFL record for receiving yards in a rookie season with an AFC-high 1,455 yards to go with an AFC-best 13 touchdowns.
But the Raiders that day kept both at bay: Burrow passed for a season-low 148 yards. Chase had three receptions for 32 yards.
They’ll be tasked Saturday with doing it again.
“You can tell there’s a lot of trust between those two,” Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said “I think (Burrow) knows where he’s going to be. He knows that if he gives him an opportunity, he’s going to win the majority of the throws that he gets to him.”
Chase was already an established star with three 100-yard games — including one 200-yard game — by the time the Bengals played the Raiders. He was the No. 5 overall draft pick for several reasons, blending deep speed with physicality, precise footwork and an advanced receiving acumen.
Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, is among the most poised and accurate passers in the NFL.
But the Raiders disrupted his rhythm in the previous matchup by sacking him three times, applying pressure on nine additional dropbacks and hitting him six more times. Chase mostly faced single coverage with a single high safety, receiving only six targets while playing 68 snaps.
He logged 14 receptions for 171 yards and two touchdowns in the ensuing four games, tepid production compared to that at the beginning of the season.
But in the final two games Burrow played, he completed 18 of 22 passes to Chase for 391 yards and three touchdowns — scorching single coverage in the process.
“He’s extremely fast, but at the same time he can lull you to sleep to feel like he’s just coming off at a certain speed and then he can really turn it on,” Bradley said of Chase. “So, he’s a special route runner. Tremendous confidence. Excellent ball skills. He’s just a big playmaker. He can take a short pass and turn into a long gain. He really does have the whole package.”
Raiders cornerback Casey Hayward knows full well what Burrow and Chase are capable of and called their connection “phenomenal.” But he cautioned against singling out that particular duo.
“The other guys just get a little overshadowed,” he said, subtly acknowledging Bengals wideouts Tee Higgins (1,091 yards, six touchdowns) and Tyler Boyd (828 yards, five touchdowns).
“They’ve got a three-headed monster over there at receiver.”