Updated: May 25, 2021
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 repeated obsession with deploying 2019 LSU-esque empty formations far too much, especially on 3rd down, and rarely without a back staying in pass protection: this became a recipe which opened Burrow up to a plethora of pain & led to most of Cincy's turnovers.
To his credit, Zac changed course after Week 6 and dropped Cincy's dependence on empty formations..... and the numbers bear this out: Across his first five NFL outings, Joe was sacked 22 times....10x in his last 5 games...so there was an improvement.
But even a formation change couldn't mask the Bengals' inherent issues; look at the first Cleveland match-up:
Having to vacate the pocket on 31 total occasions and taking 7 "official" QB hits, the worst play of the game arrived when Joe dropped back into his own end zone and was rocked hard off the edge by a wide open Myles Garrett, completing a dangerous sack / fumble. Burrow was wrapped up, ripped around and twisted violently, then driven into the turf all in the same motion, head ricocheting against the ground....it was scary shit.
When you're that good, that much of a danger to your opponents, they will take any opportunity they can to bury you....and not joking around here, Joe was close to the grave this past season, such was the level of maximum repeated carnage he endured.
More gruesome than 2020's painful stats?
If you watch the Washington game, the horrific overcast Sunday afternoon where everything went wrong for Joe's rookie year, the Bengals put up more than 200 passing yards throughout a low scoring first half against the best passing defense in the league (Joe completing 6 passes of 10 yards or more vs Ronald Darby and Kendall Fuller, two of the best DBs in the NFL last year); Shockingly, Jack Del Rio's #1 rated defensive line couldn't register a sack on Cincy's porous O-line.
However, each hit took a toll, as former Bama DT Jonathan Allen and Miss State DE Montez Sweat made sure in an awful Week 11 baptism of NFL brutality.
On 3rd and 2 with 11:41 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Burrow's Cincinnati Bengals up 9-7, Joe dropped back, stepped into a throw and his rookie year would be over.
LSU's Heisman winner says he "doesn't remember most of it" and I believe him....after the pain he went through, I'm sure he can merely remember fragments of what went down.
To this day, Burrow refuses to watch any footage of his injury.
Sadly, we know all too well what happened...the footage is there forever to remind everyone, including Joe, of how precarious the game of football can be:
When Joe's injury occurred, the majority of the damage came from Allen's low shot at the knee, scything the National Champion to the field in a truly ghastly fashion, and hyper-extending his lower leg.....
This action arose from Joe's blindside, Allen's helmet contacting through the left leg during and throughout the planting of his foot; Simultaneously, Sweat runs into him from up high on the opposite flank, forcing the former Tiger off balance right as he absorbs the hit from Allen and his body follows through.
Watch it closer:
LT Jonah Williams "tackles" Allen during the sack, sending the Washington DT's waste-high aim lower, and propelling the former Bama DT directly into the back of Burrow's lower leg; the impact combined Williams' weight on top of the Washington DT's 300+ pounds, all while Joe doubled over in an awful position, his knee dangling in the wind.
There was a hollow pause on that day where it felt like the earth had shook for die hard believers in Joe Burrow...from NFL Network's live look-ins (featuring visibly shaken NFL veterans) to Chase Young's "apology" as a devastated Joe was carted off, a funereal pall cast over the entire NFL....
Many talking heads were immediately wondering if Joe was doomed to a "Carson Palmer-esque trajectory" or perhaps even worse...if he'd ever be the same quarterback again...
Talk continued to rage about the intricacies of Joe's injury....why it happened, how it happened...even I'm doing that now.....
Meanwhile, as we were debating, writing, freaking out, blaming, or mock drafting our way through what had just happened, Burrow was already steps ahead.
Through the cold of winter, Cincy's starting QB became heavily steeped in a grueling, tedious rehab process, preceded by a surgery in L.A by Dr. Neal ElAttrache on his heavily damaged knee. After his successful surgery at Kerlan-Jobe, a timetable of 8-9 months was laid out before the quarterback....a target...
Start Week 1.....
Starting the nasty rehab process, the LSU Tiger Legend began grueling work with a team of appointed physical therapists, doctors, medical staff, all during a global pandemic, of course....
When Joe returned for his first press conference post-injury on a bleak January morning, he appeared gaunt, tired and a bit annoyed with the entire press charade before him.
Burrow's ass hadn't even hit the chair when a middle aged whine boomed through the computer screen, shooting the first injury question out at #9 from a cannon of headline fodder:
"Joe, how's your left knee feeling?" came the first volley from a callous media member, no doubt cradling his Leonard Cohen voodoo doll.
Somehow, Cincy's franchise quarterback remained composed while answering one extremely creepy question after another:
"Feels good..." he made a number of faces after where it seemed he was trying his best to keep the anger and annoyance inside, "obviously it's not 100% or close but it's pretty good."
Then came another question from a robotic "journalist", telling Burrow he must relive an extremely painful time as some kind of homework assignment :
"Describe what the rehab process has been like for you thus far..."
Before Joe answers, he looks disturbed at the computer screen, then goes through it all, from needing help out of bed for the first two weeks (which he called a "miserable time") and then tries to end on a positive note about when he'll begin to throw and get back to football normalcy.
"You said it wasn't 100% right now.... so what percentage would you give it?"
"15...." followed by the camera man laughing....Joe notices, looks disgusted, but just doesn't care...this is a run out the clock situation for a man who cannot do that...he has to win.
When Cincy's media vulchers dug in for more, Joe had enough, he was done dwelling on his injury, saying with stern authority he was "done answering anymore questions about his knee."
The Cincy media gulped, changed their pants, washed their bloody knives, and buried their faces in the sand.
All of it, for any rookie, from an intensive recovery to an invasive media, could prove to be too much....but not for Burrow:
Already ahead of his recovery schedule, the Bengals' QB has now been cleared with the quotes: "all systems geaux...." The news hit the wire like lightning out of a mason jar full of Hunter S. Thompson brewed moonshine, "JOE BURROW IS BACK....'ALL SYSTEMS GEAUX'...WILL BE READY FOR WEEK 1...."
Talking with Chris Collinsworth recently, Burrow seemed in good spirits, jolly even, feeling good about his knee, the NFL Draft picks at Cincy's disposal among other things. He looked excited, geared up and ready for 2021.
Asked about his knee today, Joe said "it's about 80, 85%, I still gotta be patient...there's good days and bad days, I'm still sore some days, it's just down to how I feel. But we have a good plan....at this point, there's not a lotta things I can't do, it's just about getting it stronger."