Not many outside of Southern Ohio have seen a year No. 3 from Joe Burrow as a starting quarterback. He never started a game in his three seasons at Ohio State and had two superb years at LSU. His second year taking the mantle of the Cincinnati Bengals ended with a 23-20 loss in Super Bowl LVI to the Rams. Now seven months separates maybe the most promising young quarterback in the NFL from his next start.
Time won’t be an issue for Burrow. After playing his final high school football game on Dec. 4, 2014, he waited until Sept. 2018 for his next start. That’s 45 months. With a long-term outlook, things always looked grimmer that his college chance would come, and it did. And he without a doubt took it. After a 21-game season, time off to reflect and reload for Burrow isn’t a bad thing.
The core of this Cincinnati roster will stick together. It’ll be the favorites to win the AFC North even with any offseason moves Baltimore makes to retool around Lamar Jackson. According to Oddschecker, the Bengals are tied for fourth with +1400 odds to win next year’s championship. They’re tied with the 49ers, who are in the process of dumping their starting quarterback and the Cowboys, who have won three playoff games since 1997 and haven’t made it past the Divisional Round since winning Super Bowl XXX, which took place the same year Burrow was born.
The Bills are the favorites at +800. Who knows how different the picture in Los Angeles looks after Sunday’s game if Buffalo doesn’t give up three touchdowns to Kansas City within the two-minute warning and overtime in the AFC Divisional Round? The Chiefs are second-favorites at +950, the team Burrow helped vanquish in the AFC title game. The now-defending champion Rams are third at +1000, with pending free agents Odell Beckham Jr., Von Miller, Darious Williams and Sony Michel. Not to mention, hints of retirement from defensive juggernaut Aaron Donald and head coach Sean McVay.
A Donald-less Rams team lose this game and Burrow is a champion in Year 2. There were so many little things that tilted this game slightly off its axis, and Burrow could’ve become the third quarterback named Joe to lift an NCAA championship and a Super Bowl title, after Joe Namath also did so in the Southeastern Conference with Alabama first. Joe Montana later joined that rare group after a stint at Notre Dame. Then again, a quarterback not named Joe has never done it.
Neither quarterback truly had a standout performance at SoFi Stadium. Both were basically meh. It’s also not fair to pin the Bengals’ loss only on Burrow. Burrow’s 22 completions on 33 attempts for 263 yards and a touchdown is an alright stat line. What jumps out about Burrow’s performance is how many times he hit the turf (11), with seven ending in sacks. It’s surprising Burrow did that well with such crappy protection.
Burrow plays in the conference with the better quarterbacks, that’s not debatable. Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Jackson all stand in his way of a repeat trip to the Super Bowl (which will be in Arizona). There’s not an NFC quarterback, besides Aaron Rodgers, who holds a candle to the AFC’s top tier, and who knows where Green Bay will stand in 12 months. The window is far from closing on Burrow’s career and it’s likely he’ll get another chance to play on the biggest stage in sports again one day. But it won’t be easy (see above).
Cincinnati was 2-14 two years ago before drafting Burrow No. 1 overall. His ability to raise the Bengals’ profile since Sept. 2020 is unmatched. And just ask Dan Marino, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, who lost in his only Super Bowl appearance in his second season with the Dolphins. There’s no guarantee Burrow will get this opportunity again. It sounds unlikely, but not impossible. So where does the former Heisman Trophy winner go from here? A lot of it is out of his control. Cincinnati has a good enough team to win the Super Bowl this year. Bringing in more reinforcements along the offensive line and secondary would be a start, that’s where the Bengals lost to the Rams.
Burrow’s sophomore professional season proved he’ll be around for a long time. He threw for 4,611 yards and 34 touchdowns in the regular season, finishing sixth and eighth respectively in those categories. Every single player to beat him in either one came into the league the same year as him (Herbert) or is more experienced. The leg up Burrow has on guys like Jackson, Allen and Herbert is now he’s felt what it’s like to play in a Super Bowl. Some guys don’t know how bad they actually want it until it is almost in their fingertips and denied. We’ll see how long it takes Burrow to get another shot at a Lombardi Trophy.