Updated: May 26
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
264/ 404 = 65.3%
6.7 Per Completion
89.8% Passer Rating
142 Rushing Yards
Hits Suffered: 76
Heisman & National Championship-winning #1 overall pick Joe Burrow started off his NFL career with a bang, defying his every critic & winning the respect of most NFL veterans following a gutsy rookie season....although beyond statistics, records or pedigree, most will remember his NFL debut campaign for one thing and one thing only:
But before that....there was magic:....and plenty on tap:
Of course, the Bengals hardly won across 2020, even finding ways to screw up Joe Burrow's miraculous comebacks, incredible scrambles or crazy 3rd / 4th down heroics, however there was an immediate sea change for the Cincinnati Bengals once Joe Burrow took his first pro snap:
As if the Bengals' owner Mike Brown, Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin and Head Coach / Offensive Coordinator Zac Taylor hit the restart button when they picked Joe, Cincinnati's coaching staff and ever-expanding fan base responded & bought in to the aggressive 2019 LSU mentality Burrow brought with him:
Inside Cincy, a positive pandemonium greeted Burrow's arrival: trading Hall of Fame QB / Bengals Legend Boomer Esiason's "mac and cheese" 80s-isms for an accelerated, savage approach; this new era of Bengals football would be driven by a cigar-smokin', touchdown-throwin' Burt Reynolds behind the wheel.
Mr. "Hollywood, Ohio" was the perfect pick.
Growing up in Athens, rejected by "family team" Nebraska, playing backup at hometown Ohio State, moving to LSU to pursue his destiny...he's been through everything any quarterback could ever experience....
But even before Cincy selected Joe 1st overall, many top analysts forecasted him as a "bona fide bust" and called his 2019 season a "fluke". Some, like Colin Cowherd questioned his "hand size" and plenty of others doubted his quarterbacking style would flourish at the top level.
It sounds like deep rooted insecurity & jealousy over watching 2019 LSU bully seven Top 10 teams, but this notion was out there. Some were claiming his 65 overall touchdowns, Heisman Trophy and National Championship were all granted to him due to the talent-rich LSU Tigers' supporting cast....as if the SEC must've turned into the Mountain West Conference overnight, many of these embarrassing "analysts" or online fools compared Joe Burrow to Ty Detmer, Matt Leinart and any number of other Heisman / record-setting collegiate quarterbacks who busted at the NFL level.
It was as if Joe understood the doubt surrounding his ascension would continue unabated, especially after being picked #1.
Accordingly, Burrow went back into the same "foxhole" mentality he'd inhabited during his toughest days as a backup at Ohio State, when the coaching staff who'd recruited him were bailing....the same headspace where his legendary LSU performances reside.
From his first practice at the helm, Joe ran the Bengals with the same confidence and swagger which propelled 2019 LSU; while recognizing he still had a lot to absorb at the next level, Burrow trusted in every top Cincy veteran....winning over their entire roster almost immediately, namely long-time Pro Bowl wide out A.J Green.
Through Head Coach / Offensive Coordinator Zac Taylor, Burrow also found a kindred spirit, a slightly comparable offensive mind to former Tigers' "passing game scientist" Joe Brady...an adaptable genius who breeds primitive juices around the team.
Accordingly, Burrow has gone out of his way to praise Taylor:
When former Bengals hero & current NFL commentating powerhouse Chris Collinsworth (who once sent another man to the hospital by using only his Adam's apple) asked Joe if the same old "Bengals curse" or "players not wanting to play for Cincy" freaked him out of coming to the Bengals, Joe took off on a tear:
First he explained why playing for Cincy meant so much:
"Being from Ohio, this is where I wanted to be. And then you sit down with Zac (Taylor) and you really....I mean Zac's unbelievable. He's gonna...he's gonna be great for us for a long time. Me and him have a special relationship: there was chemistry from the very first meeting that we had at the combine. So this is a dream for me to be quarterback of the Bengals....I mean it's crazy... from Ohio, we have a lotta fun, we have great players, great coaches and you know I think the future is bright."
Judging by last season, Cincinnati's future is extremely bright as long as #9 remains at the helm:
Joe set a bevy of NFL rookie and Bengals marks, thoroughly displaying his unbelievable playmaking abilities (specifically his "Houdini Jeaux" moment during his best performance vs Tennessee). Thanks in part to Zac Taylor's innovation, confidence and both quarterback and coach's steadfast belief in each other, Joe's game continued to evolve.
As his rookie season began, Burrow manifested his 2019 LSU playmaking on the grand NFL stage, tossing gutsy touchdowns on the run, extending plays longer than a David Foster Wallace novel, and evading unceasing pressure with advanced precision. But it wasn't so much Joe's gaudy 2019-esque numbers which really caught the attention of football junkies the world over....it was his throwback "dare to dream" toughness that won #9 scores of more fans or admirers.
He defied doubters even during a poor Week 1 outing from Cincy, rallying his struggling offense to some intriguing heights during the second half.
Throughout the Bengals' final drive vs the Chargers, Joe should've won his rookie debut with an expertly timed bullet to A.J Green...only for the touchdown to be nullified due to a questionable offensive pass interference call on the veteran wide out (then, to make matters worse, a game-tying field goal from only 31 yards was screwed wide right by the tortured visage of Randy Bullock).
Despite the harsh luck, everyone knew what they'd just witnessed.......a star had been born...
On their final drive, Joe went a Brady-esque 10/11 through the air, tossing 4 completions of 10+ yards as he "wheeled / dealed" Zac Taylor's offense to the cusp of victory.
Next, what happened in Week 2 may have sealed his burgeoning rise:
In only his 2nd ever NFL appearance, the Bengals' franchise QB completed an outrageous 37 passes from 61 attempts for 316 yards, hitting 8 different receivers, resulting in 3 TDs, 5.2 yards per attempt and 0 interceptions.
Throwing 20 first down strikes against Cleveland's defense, Burrow suffered repeated hits from Myles Garrett, yet continued to release big time connections. Hitting four conversions on 4th down and five on 3rd, Joe found WRs Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, A.J Green, even TE Drew Sample for eleven combined gains of 10+ yards vs the Browns....
Regardless of his rookie QB's otherworldly numbers, criticism was aimed Zac Taylor's way during the week after Cincy's shootout defeat (as well as throughout the Sunday night game) with commentator / Hall of Fame QB Troy Aikman mockingly saying "I threw 60 attempts in 3 weeks..."
"If Joe Burrow throws the ball 60 times a game, he's gonna get flattened!" The media's biggest commentators and analysts correctly, collectively declared, lambasting Zac Taylor's offensive play selection....still, the talking heads did have a point when they said Taylor's one-dimensional play calling left Joe "vulnerable to big hits"....it did indeed....but it was more the alignment and a need to emulate Joe Brady's empty formations which left Burrow most susceptible.
While so many focused on Joe's 61 attempts, I thought to myself: what about his rookie record 37 completions....all without an interception?
Put this into perspective: it took will-be-Hall of Famer Russell Wilson until 2015 to be trusted enough by Pete Carroll to chuck 30 completions in a game; Wilson only registered a single game-high of 33 (needing overtime vs Arizona this past season) and he's hit 30+ completions in a game just 5x in his 9 full years as a starter in the NFL....Wilson also threw 8 interceptions during those 5 games, with 2 multi-interception outings.
Crazier, Aaron Rodgers threw for 30+ completions on 22 occasions across his storied will-be-Hall of Fame NFL career, however Rodgers only surpassed Joe's 37 completions once (2016 vs Chicago) and attempted 61 passes just one single time, hitting 35/61 of his passes for 333 yards and 2 TDs vs Detroit....
Joe usurped those Hall of Famer numbers as a rookie...
Following the Week 2 "Battle of Ohio" on national television, #1 NFL writer Peter King prophesied: "I'm not saying he's gonna be Peyton Manning, all I'm saying is that you see a player in the first two games of the year, last night on the road, first road game in the NFL, very shaky protection...verrrry shaky...he leads 6 scoring drives, ya know and he can't play defense....he doesn't have a bunch of 'Grant Delpits' on his defense necessarily, and....ya know at LSU, you're gonna have the best players, but my only point is: if you live in Cincinnati or you love the Bengals and you have been waiting for years for a sign that 'ok, we're gonna get outta the wilderness now', this to me....and again, with all respect due to Andy Dalton, he led them to respectability, you can't criticize that, but to me....this is like what it was like in the mid 80s in Cincinnati when they drafted Boomer Esiason, and they had that wacky offense with Sam Wyche, and every game was an event....and everybody is gonna be watching the Bengals this year. It's just like what LeBron James said last night, 'this kid has it'..."
Still, as far as Joe was concerned....none of his newfound glory or prestige mattered....all because of one simple fact:
When asked about his big stats vs Cleveland, Burrow shook his head with a calm glare, “It doesn’t matter to me. Football is about letters, not numbers — W and L. We took an L today...”
Sure, Joe won't care about his individual achievements...regardless, we have numbers the QB would likely be proud of.... In the end, it's what Joe pulled off when the Bengals needed him most that counts:
Throwing 4 TD passes on 3rd or 4th down, rushing for another score on 4th & inches, and completing 49 of his 152 total 1st down conversions on 3rd or 4th down....truly incredible numbers from a rookie QB facing such a talent-stacked, grinding, physical division such as the AFC North, all without an offensive line, little help from the running game or a consistent receiving corps.
As if we watched a young man battling dragons, slaying them one after another while covered in a mixture of their blood as much as his own, Joe refused to back down no matter the odds:
This was Joe Burrow's own Red Dawn.
Sticking his face in the flame of eternal conquest, Joe let it rip, showing he can air it out with the NFL's best when he became the first rookie QB to ever throw for 3 consecutive 300 yard games (recording five 300+ yard performances during a 6 game stretch).
Of course, LSU's Heisman-winner had his own individual struggles, notably throwing 6 straight critical incompletions during a disastrous outing for the Bengals' offense vs Pittsburgh; Dropped passes and dysfunctional protection were both high on Cincy's menu that day as Joe had to scrape himself off the grass following 4 vicious sacks.
In a 27-3 beating at the hands of former teammate Patrick Queen's Ravens, the #1 overall pick coughed up the ball in torrential fashion: fumbling twice (one to Queen himself for a scoop and score), as well as throwing another pick ....all as Joe had to dig his bruised body out of the ground for one play after another.
In every one of Cincy's 10 outings started by Joe, as soon as the Bengals built any momentum, Joe would be throttled to the ground; The second everything was firing on all cylinders, another rusher came barreling in off the edge and lowered the boom...unblocked; Or, just as the rhythm found its groove, Burrow second guessed himself and threw one of his 5 interceptions; He barely had a second to think, constantly forced to escape pressure right at the last second, much of their success built on secondary routes.
On some plays, Joe wasn't so lucky, absorbing astonishing hits, spinning knockout blows....although, like a scene out of Raging Bull, somehow Joe Burrow kept getting up.
Without trying or wanting to be, #9 became more of a martyr than a starter as the season wore on, every football fan sitting on the edge of their seats...not just for the wins, touchdowns or triumphs.....most of us were just hoping he'd live to see another down.
In the afterglow of his G.O.A.T quarterbacking season in collegiate history, where every title, record or award was up for grabs, the Heisman winner found the ultimate measure of his rookie year would prove much more challenging than anything he'd previously faced......would he be up to the task?
Above his impressive numbers, uttering iconic one-liners such as "I'll get that call when I'm the G.O.A.T" or making incredibly brave decisions with the football, Joe had to dig really deep on many plays throughout 2020.
In fact, Burrow did an amazing job just surviving the 2020 season with an ACL tear, encapsulating his wisdom & feel for the game beyond his rookie status:
Over 10 games, Joe was hit 76 times and suffered 32 sacks....108 total bashings of the quarterback is outrageous....7.6 hits and 3.2 sacks per game, going above that sack average on four occasions.
And it wasn't all the Cincinnati offensive line's fault...the vast majority of these hits came from Zac Taylor's repe