There’s a lot to write about and to consider with the NFL near the quarter point of the season. (Some 63 of 272 regular-season games have been played, 23 percent of the season, as of this morning.) So much to love about Kyler Murray and Derek Carr and others, and I don’t write about Joe Burrow here because he’s been the best quarterback in the league. I write about him because he is everything the Bengals needed. Cincinnati owner Mike Brown’s decision to not trade the number one pick in 2020 and stay put and pick Burrow will turn out to be great for the franchise for a long, long time.
A quarterback playing in Cincinnati doesn’t always have it easy. Since the Bengals got lucky in the 1984 draft and Boomer Esiason fell to them with the 38th pick, their quarterback draft choices have been a bit star-crossed, aside from Carson Palmer in 2003 and Andy Dalton in 2011. After Esiason, David Klingler (sixth overall, 1992) and Akili Smith (third overall, 1999) led to a dry spell at the position. Palmer lasted seven years and Dalton nine, and neither led the Bengals far into the playoffs. I don’t know if Burrow will either; Cincinnati is not a place that free agents flock. But there’s so much to like about Burrow after 14 NFL starts, even though he’s just 5-8-1 in those starts and he’s already survived one major knee surgery as a Cincinnati rookie.
One play showed me everything that’s good about Burrow in Cincinnati’s comeback from a 14-0 deficit against Jacksonville on Thursday night. Mike Florio and I discussed it Friday morning on his Pro Football Talk TV show on Peacock. Lo and behold, NFL Films had Burrow wired for sound in the game, and Films picked the play Florio and dissected Friday to feature on social channels over the weekend.
You may recall it: Second-and-13 for Cincinnati at the Jags’ 46, with 1:09 left in a 21-21 game. On the play, Jacksonville showed blitz, and the Jags followed through. At the snap, Jacksonville defensive coordinator Joe Cullen brought the house—a zero blitz, leaving every Cincinnati receiver single-covered with no deep help from safeties. To Burrow’s right, young receiver Trenton Irwin set a legal pick for tight end C.J. Uzomah, who broke free right near the line of scrimmage, with Burrow under heavy pressure.
A millisecond before getting plowed to the turf by Jags defensive end Dawuane Smoot, Burrow spotted Uzomah and delivered a throw to him in the right flat. Uzomah nabbed it and steamed 25 yards upfield, setting up the winning field goal as time expired.
NFL Films caught Burrow getting up, moving toward the huddle before the next play. “Can’t zero me!!” he said to no one.
On the bench, before the winning kick, Burrow was pumped. “Put it in my hands!” he said. “Put it in my hands. It’s over!”
They did, and it was over. The Bengals have some protection issues, and they don’t always run it like a playoff contender should. But they’ve got a quarterback. Burrow (25 for 32, 348 yards, two TDs, no picks, 132.8 rating Thursday night) is the right man at the right time for a team that exits Week 4 in a three-way tie for first place at 3-1 in the AFC North. I said it at the beginning of the year: The Bengals have a Dan Fouts for the future. As long as Burrow stays upright, Cincinnati is going to win more games than you’d bet they would.