Burrow II


Joe Burrow is primed to rebound from his Super Bowl disappointment. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Colin Loughran , Contributing Writer

The 1977 cinematic treasure “Rocky” tells the story of an upstart boxer from Philadelphia  who is ultimately defeated by the more skilled and experienced fighter, Apollo Creed. The film’s title character is fondly remembered and viewed as a true underdog by all who have seen it. Even though Rocky loses the initial fight to Creed, he is able to return in “Rocky II,” right alongside Mickey and Co. and ultimately wins the dramatic rematch. 

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is the NFL’s “Rocky.” This has become crystal clear now that the confetti from Super Bowl LVI has stopped falling. In the weeks leading up to the big game, it was not the powerhouse Los Angeles Rams who won the hearts of football fans everywhere.; instead, it was the Bengals’ underdog,  Burrow, that truly captured viewers’ imaginations as a story worth rooting for. Given that Burrow’s rookie campaign was shortened by a nasty knee injury, many saw this season as a true indicator of his potential NFL greatness. He posted 4,611 passing yards, a respectable touchdown-interception ratio of 34-14, and the second best quarterback rating in the league. These numbers are even more impressive when one considers that Burrow was sacked more than any other quarterback over the course of the season. 

This lack of pocket protection was the price Cincinnati paid when they chose to select Ja’Marr Chase in the draft instead of shoring up the offensive line. Chase has certainly proven this was the correct choice. However, there was skepticism at first. Fans and analysts alike felt it may have been better to protect the future of the franchise before adding vertical threats. Regardless of the decision, Burrow led the Bengals to an unforgettable season that included a trip to the Super Bowl. His heroics against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship were enough to turn heads and convince the masses that the Bengals would be able to complete the Cinderella story with an upset on football’s biggest stage. 

Unfortunately, the story did not have a magical ending. Burrow took a beating from the Rams defensive front. Further, it was reported that Burrow sprained his MCL during the game and managed to play through the pain. Even still, the Bengals came within a few plays of lifting the Lombardi, only losing to Los Angeles by a score of 23-20. The game made it clear that Cincinnati has some work to do, but one would be grossly incorrect to blame the loss on Burrow. 

Here’s the reality that the Cincinnati Bengals front office will face this offseason: there is no excuse. Among playoff teams, the Bengals will have the most available cap space in 2022. Chase is a transformative talent that had to be drafted, and no one in their right mind would argue differently after this season. Now is clearly the time to build the offensive line. Signing a proven center such as Ryan Jensen this offseason could help form some consistency. Jensen could serve as an anchor and potentially help younger players like Jackson Carman come into their own. Truthfully, Jensen is only one of many names this offseason that could help protect Burrow, but the Bengals front office must ensure that they make a splash. Otherwise, they will be wasting what could be a brilliant encore. 

Cinematic sequels are often worse than the original. Ironically, this is rarely the case with legendary quarterbacks. After losing two Super Bowls to the New York Giants and quite a few early playoff games, Tom Brady learned how to take care of his body in a fashion that would actually aid his performance. He understood that his early success was not sustainable given his lack of routine. 

Similarly, Patrick Mahomes only won his first ring after losing an AFC Championship affair to Brady in the 2018 season. The experience surely served as a lesson in football acumen. Mahomes began to understand that clock management and improved pocket presence would be critical to his NFL career. 

Burrow will undergo a similar evolution. After a Super Bowl loss, he will begin to look for more ways to gain a competitive advantage and continue to grow as a leader. Believe it or not, this loss may be the best thing to happen to him and the Bengals. For the first time, Burrow was truly humbled. Sure, one could count the injury, but that was an instance in which he could not physically help his team win. 

This past year’s loss saw a situation where Burrow was on the field, but could not “deliver the knockout punch.” Burrow was the underdog with unbridled swagger.  He wouldn’t dare “blame” his O-line for the defeat. In his mind, he should have risen above the circumstances. All of the great ones have this same mentality, and it is ultimately what pushes them to gradually improve their game on and off the field. We may not have gotten a storybook ending this past season for Burrow, but if Cincinnati takes steps to protect him, it won’t be much longer until the title character rises up and delivers a riveting sequel.