Running back Joe Mixon is posing with former Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson before the game. Then he's in another picture, listening intently as offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterback Andy Dalton discuss plays. He's cheering on the sideline. He's jumping on Dalton's back. In the final pictures from the game, he's running to the end zone and jumping on top of A.J. Green, who had just caught the winning touchdown.
"If you see pictures from after the game, I think he was in every single one of them," Dalton said, "He found a way in the end zone, and he found a way everywhere on the sideline. I’m surprised he didn’t try to go out on the field during the game. I think it’s just how he is, and it’s good to have a guy like that."
Mixon may have been in more pictures than some of the offensive starters, and he wasn't even playing. Mixon said he just wanted to be a part of the game and help his teammates, even if it was simply by lifting their spirits.
"I’m there with whatever they need. Say, for instance, like this past weekend, Mark [Walton] came on the sideline, I’m like, 'Let’s get some water for him.' Or Tyler Boyd need some water, I’m right there to go get it for them," Mixon said. "I’ll always be my teammates biggest fans. Try to cheer them on as much as possible. It definitely goes a long way and shows I’m going to do whatever I can to continue to be that part. Whether on or off the field."
Mixon has been held out of games since mid-September, when he had a procedure done to remove some loose particles in his knee. All signs point to a return soon after he was back at practice on Wednesday for the first time since Week 2. Mixon said he hopes he will be cleared to play this week, but if not, he's "for sure" back vs. the Steelers next week.
Whether he's on the sideline or on the field, Mixon's attitude has never changed. He's maintained the same enthusiasm that he had when he showed up on Day 1 last year. His childlike enthusiasm was one of the traits that drew the Bengals to him during the draft process, and Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has said he hopes Mixon never loses that.
Lewis pointed out that Mixon was at Oklahoma's pro day last spring cheering on former teammates Orlando Brown, Baker Mayfield and Mark Andrews, so his sideline demeanor isn't exactly new to anyone who has been around him.
"He had the towel and the water bottle," Lewis said. "That was what he was doing and that’s Joe. I encourage him to never lose that quality. If you want to ascend to the type of player you can be in the NFL you want to keep that exuberance and camaraderie with your teammates. It's big; winning is important to him."
The NFL can be a grind for even the most positive players, but the 22-year-old Mixon appears to have a long way to go before he gets to that point.
"You got to love football," he said. "What’s the point of playing if you don’t love it? It’s just the passion all of us have for the game. Just try to bring whatever juice I can to my teammates, as much as possible. They all feed off of it. It’s all good energy. We just try to do whatever we can."