by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Well....we're here...is it familiar?
LSU legend Joe Burrow will contest football's greatest championship this coming Sunday, leading the Cincinnati Bengals on an unparalleled journey packed with iconic, historic revelry of the kind I can barely wrap my head around....
Breaking his leg, tearing his ACL, doubted by analysts and fans alike, drafting fellow 2019 LSU Legend Ja'marr Chase over 1st round offensive line help, attacking the season with a fury as the "Badass Burrow Bengals" won the AFC North for the first time since 2015 while Chase navigated a Pro Bowl and Rookie of the Year-caliber debut, taking down the Raiders in the AFC Wild Card to give Cincy their first playoff win after 32 years, before riding a record-tying 9 sacks as Burrow and co survived Tennessee at the last second, handing the Bengals' organization their first road playoff victory in franchise history....then, of course, tying Peyton Manning's record 18 point championship game comeback when Joey B and the Bengals upset Super Bowl champions Kansas City on the road via miraculous overtime-heralded spectacle.......
....that?☝Oh that's just a short retelling of Cincy's wonder year under the direct guidance of multiple former Tigers....
Who stands in their way for a chance to cement the most impressive NFL turnaround of all time?
Super Bowl LVI hosts the LA Rams, featuring former Tiger Legends Odell Beckham Jr and Andrew Whitworth.
Super Bowl LVI should be an outstanding bout between Tiger greats:
Headlined by two of LSU's top 5 greatest receivers participating against one another, Odell Beckham Jr and Ja'marr Chase, as a pair of Tiger trench heroes duel along the line of scrimmage: Rams' LT Andrew Whitworth could square up against Bengals' DT Tyler Shelvin from time to time.
But for all the factors which will decide this upcoming Super Bowl, the greatest decider will always be the playmaking, history-taking assassinry of Joe Burrow.
The 2019 Heisman winner & 2020 #1 overall pick has found championship quests habit-forming, taking both LSU & the Cincinnati Bengals to extreme heights over these past 2 1/2 years.
Changing Cincinnati's mentality as an organization, a team and a fanbase while celebrating / igniting the city's sporting culture in less than 2 years, Joe's Cincy run is arguably an even stronger accomplishment than any he produced at LSU.....
LSU knew how winning felt before Joe Burrow....in the pre-Burrow years, Cincy could only wave at the parades as they passed on by.
Burrow and now Chase both turned around the fortunes of American sports' most diabolical losing franchise while transforming Cincy into a certified, rarifed, swagified winner built for the future;
Make no mistake, this is one of the brightest young NFL rosters, and its genesis began when the organization started taking the right chances in the draft.
Drafting Ja'marr Chase against massive criticism & a wild backlash not only demonstrated the sway Burrow effortlessly exerts upon Cincinnati's front office, the Chase move was a clear shot across the bow: "a win now move"....
....as I wrote at the time, Cincy's AFC North opponents didn't know it yet, but they already signed their 2021/22 death certificates once Chase was drafted alongside Burrow.
Together, the LSU pair understood they could repeat their 2019 heroics, only this time with no end in sight as starting teammates aboard an NFL franchise.
However, for all the awards, challenges overcome, plaudits, renewed swagger, etc....none of it will matter to Joe Burrow and co if they can't seal their 2021/22 dreamscape campaign in Lombardi trophy fairy dust.
Can Joe supply the Super Bowl he's always craved?
After he lost Ohio's 2014 Division III state title game to end his historic Athens High career, falling just short in the final moments of a wild game vs Toledo 56-52, Burrow never forgot the feeling of that loss.....and to atone, Joe went on a wild winning spree at LSU and now Cincinnati: Taking down 9 top 10 teams over 2 seasons at LSU (including the G.O.A.T regular season college football game: 2019's win at Tuscaloosa), before completing a rare season sweep of the Bengals' AFC North-hogging rivals (Pittsburgh and Baltimore), then, achieving Cincy's first ever road playoff win when Joe survived against recent AFC title game participants Tennessee and Coach Vrabel's relentless defensive front (Logan Wilson's interception setting up Burrow and Chase's 19 yard hookup before Evan McPherson booted a game-winning field goal), finally capping off the journey with G.O.A.T-level heroics @ Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
I can write those accomplishments again and again, I can write lengthy articles before or after Burrow, Chase & Shelvin's epic ride to a Super Bowl in just their first playoff run, yet I still feel I'm not paying enough dues...
Will Joe's recent stellar playoff form be an indication of how he performs on Sunday?
We can look at the past to point us forward to the future....
Joe Burrow's record in title games (or final games of magnitude) is incredible:
Of course, as Ohio's Mr. Football from 2014, Burrow gave everything during Athens High's last second defeat to Toledo, setting the OHSAA Division III title game marks for touchdowns, yards and completions: 6 touchdown passes, 446 yards and 26 completions.
At the end of his debut season as QB for LSU, Joe Shiesty led the Tigers on a spirited comeback amid a violent, constantly dirty, trash-talking, face-in-the-toilet bloodbath against #8 UCF, including that memorable moment where Burrow is face down, on his knees after tossing an early pick six, the wind knocked out of him, his rib cage vibrating with untold agony.....then, UCF's Nate Evans openly, cowardly taunted our wounded hero while he was on the ground, visibly hurt....and things have never been the same since.
Instead of thinking about how bad he was hurting, the pick six or anything else, all #9 could see was blood red....he was out to destroy.
Joe flipped the switch, tossing 394 yards, 21 completions and 4 TDs, the most yards any LSU Tiger QB accounted for since Rohan Davey's 383 yards against Kentucky in 2001; however, the Heisman winner's obliteration of UCF also started a long flirtation with rewriting record books, his 394 yards trailing only Rohan's legendary 528 yard performance @ Alabama (2001) & Tommy Hodson's 1989 mark of 438 (vs Tennessee) for the all time Tigers' single game passing record.
Even after hoisting his 2019 Heisman alongside 18 other nationally awarded individual honors, Joe didn't give a damn: he wanted to give his teammates a ring, saving his most iconic performances for his final two outings as a Tiger:
493 yards vs Oklahoma in the semifinal, and 463 vs Clemson....both stand within the program's top 5 single game passing outings ever......these were games with everything on the line. Accordingly...or...mechanically, Joe erased competition for 16 TD passes and 2 rushing scores over 2019/20's College Football Playoff and SEC Championship Game....we haven't even brought up 3rd and 17 yet...
For anyone doubting whether Joe's clutch acumen would continue at the NFL level.....you've most likely suffered through a tough last month:
Acting like he's been in the NFL for a decade, Burrow continued snapping records and inspiring teammates to reach heights unseen, chucking 842 yards, 4 TDs and 2 INTs over his first 3 NFL Playoff appearances.
Now, everything Joe experienced on the gridiron helped him arrive at this moment of destiny....would you bet against him?
Also, watch out for rookie Ja'marr Chase's blistering first trip to an NFL postseason, becoming the first rookie receiver in NFL history to catch over 100 yards through his first pair of playoff games, following his Wild Card & Divisional round magic with a monumental, game-turning touchdown on 3rd and goal in the AFC title game.
Across these 3 intense outings, Chase snatched 20 catches earning 279 yards, his epic TD vs KC, plus 28 yards rushing, although let's remind everyone....there's no big stage fear within Cincy's rookie Tiger.
Hauling 223 yards and 2 uber-critical TDs against Clemson as a sophomore at LSU, Chase set the National Championship Game receiving record, a mark which still stands.
The attention Ja'marr attracts, his detail-oriented route running, as well as his unselfish work off the ball created 10 combined TDs and 663 yards between 2019 LSU receiving partners Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall.
We've already seen Chase orchestrate space and big play opportunities for Bengals pass catchers Tee Higgins, CJ Uzomah, and Tyler Boyd this postseason, feeding off his advanced attention from secondaries.
Now on the cusp of igniting a potential dynasty in Ohio, Burrow, Chase and Shelvin have just one more obstacle left in their path:
Sean McVay's Rams, returning to the Super Bowl after a 3 year sabbatical, now rocking a worthy offense capable of rewriting their criminal Super Bowl LIII display (3 points) vs Brady and Belichick's Patriots, operated by former UGA and Lions QB Matthew Stafford. On the outside, LSU Legend Odell Beckham Jr supports the NFL's most prodigious receiver, Cooper Kupp.
Despite playing limited reps following an injury, OBJ's move to LA has seen nothing but good vibes for the volatile receiver, seeming settled and happy in Los Angeles right now....of course, playing in his first ever Super Bowl following a career performance in the NFC Championship Game: 9 Catches for 113 yards vs San Francisco.
McVay is finding a way to fit OBJ into the Rams' offense, and it's already paying mighty dividends.
While a lot of talk is on Burrow understandably, Matthew Stafford walked a long road to get to this point, too.
Fighting off fears that he left UGA a season too soon, Stafford is another #1 overall pick leading his team to a Super Bowl in his first extended playoff jaunt, though his trials in Detroit nearly cost him his career......now, Stafford is one game away from pulling off what many believed "unthinkable".
Due to these storylines, Super Bowl LVI should be an explosive encounter between two aggressive, title-hungry clubs run by younger coaches, gunslinger quarterbacks, Louisiana-bred receivers, Louisiana-native trench kings, dynamic offenses, tough / resilient & physical defenses......after an insane playoff season such as we've witnessed thus far in 2022, where every game was an epic masterpiece, one after another, how could Super Bowl LVI's matchup supply anything less?
Joe Burrow vs Aaron Donald....
Can Cincy's O-line keep Joe upright and give him just enough time to escape the former Defensive Player of the Year's clutches?
Will Joe be able to extend plays as he's religiously done before, pulling off Houdini escapes against everyone from Alabama, UGA, Vrabel's Titans or Spagnuolo's Chiefs?
Can Jalen Ramsey handle Chase's combination of physicality, speed and towering aerial phenomena?
What role will Tyler Shelvin play in this game? Possibly participating in some big stops along the line on short yardage snaps, coming up with a sack or turnover?
"Big T" could have a major impact if deployed for heavy action...watch for #99.
Unlike their first Super Bowl trip under McVay, LA can't afford to coach scared, cautious or start "playing not to lose"....because Joe Burrow and his Bengals won't waste a moment making sure they finish the night holding Super Bowl LVI's Lombardi trophy.
This game has it all....intrigue, storylines, sexy settings, a wondrous cast of characters, and most of all, great LSU Tigers on display, specifically Joe Burrow and Ja'marr Chase, who I believe will not shy away from their destiny...
I cannot bet against Joe, even against the Rams' #1 Ranked work defending & perpetrating the pass rush, there's far too much magic for LA to contend with.
Chase will pick on Ramsey, Burrow will suffer some hits and sacks at the hands od Donald, Joe Mixon will produce major moments out of the backfield as an outlet, and Cincy's defense will overpower Stafford and LA in front of their hometown crowd late around the 3 minute mark of the 4th quarter.
BURROW: 357, 3 TDs
CHASE: 86, 1 TD
SHELVIN: 2 PRESSURES, 0.5 SACK, 1 FF
OBJ: 75, 1 TD
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2022 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
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