After Rookie Of Year Season Detoured, Burrow Eyes Comeback

Joe Burrow was headed to 400 yards when he got hurt Sunday.
Joe Burrow was headed to 400 yards when he got hurt Sunday.

One of the first texts in the long black line of them said how eerily it resembled the Carson Palmer Play.

Right down to the No. 9 lying on the ground. Grabbing the knee. Writhing in pain as the trainers got him on his back. His hand grabbing his face mask. Stunned teammates gathering to wish a shocked shell of a face well as rookie franchise quarterback Joe Burrow was carted off the field.

Right down to a defensive tackle, Johnathan Allen, bulling inside before falling into the back of Burrow's knee as he stepped up in the pocket.

Right down to his mates predicting a better-than-ever return. One thing that wasn't around nearly 15 years ago that night against Pittsburgh was Twitter. And Burrow's swagger even came through with a tweet in the final moments of the 20-9 loss.

OK, maybe not all that eerily similar.

But right down to the Bengals saying nothing about the injury yet because it's simply too early in the exam stage. Just like last time, there are reports out there that say the initial diagnosis is a torn ACL. Which means there are more MRIs to see if there is any more damage than that.

Bengaldom can only hope the similarities keep riding for the next year because it will be recalled that although Palmer tore his ACL on the night of Jan. 8, 2006, he was not only ready for the first day of training camp and Opening Day, he led them to a 3-0 start and ended being named the MVP of the Pro Bowl.

Suddenly, the guy who should have been the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is undergoing scans and MRIs. The rehab began Sunday night on the charter flight back, where Bengals director of operations Jeff Brickner gave up his first class seat on the bulkhead.

Every knee, every injury is different. But no one doubts that the man his teammates call "Houdini," has another magic trick up his sleeve. Defensive end Carl Lawson, who has come back from two ACL tears and leads the team in sacks this year with 4.5 after getting one Sunday, is one of those guys.

Lawson was thinking back to training camp and the rookie quarterback having no qualms about coming up to the four-year vet in the locker room.

"(Burrow would) ask me, 'Hey, you think you would have got me on thay play,' during camp,'" Lawson said. "You can tell just the way he carries himself - his aura. After the Ravens game he was like, 'Yeah that's never going to happen to me.' He's damn near crying, because he didn't feel like he played that well. That's something I can relate to, because that's how I am. I have no doubt in my mind that that dude is going to be OK."

Wide receiver A.J. Green has gone through his own grueling rehabs. The minute he got over one that cost him half a season getting his big toe right, he had to undergo another and lost another season right after that to fix a damaged ankle.

"Just attack every day. Sometimes, you're not going to feel like rehabbing," Green said. "But you always have to look at the bigger picture and that's just getting back and getting ready to play football. That was my mindset over these two years. Keep attacking the day. Keep getting better. Keep staying positive and everything will work itself out. Joe, he's going to be fine. He's a fighter. He's a competitor. He's going to come back even better."

Green believes he knows that because he's been in Burrow's huddle.

"He's just a guy's guy, man. He's just one of the guys. That's the biggest thing for him," Green said. "You see these quarterbacks that are No. 1, they don't talk, they're mostly quiet. But Joe was a guy's guy. That's a guy you want in the huddle with you. He fought every day. It's amazing being in the huddle with him, his poise and just how he carried himself."

Head coach Zac Taylor's also the play-caller, has centered his program and offense on Burrow. And, maybe the biggest thing of all, his energy.

And he knows he's getting that back.

"The players have responded to him, the coaches have responded to him, the city has responded to him and all that is equally as important," Taylor said. "He energizes this team and he's been a tremendous player. Everything we'd hoped he would be, and we'll get him back at some point. We don't know when that is, but for now we got to transform that energy and put it somewhere else in this team, again we got plenty of guys we can rely on."

At the moment, Taylor's offensive line is under heavy criticism in the wake of Burrow's injury. It's the culmination of a season that Burrow began as the most sacked quarterback in the league.

But in the last month, the numbers and pressure have decreased. Burrow went into Sunday's game as the third most sacked quarterback and last Sunday he was hit just five times by a Steeler team that usually doubles that.

The game before that, the win over Tennessee, Burrow didn't get hit or sacked. According to Pro Football Focus, their two starting tackles that lined up in Washington, both guys playing in their first seasons, left tackle Jonah Williams and rookie right tackle Hakeem Adeniji, went into Sunday's game allowing a combined one sack and six hits on Burrow.

And when Burrow got hit his on his 34th throw of the day, he had yet to be sacked. Washington did bring a blitz up the middle, but running back Giovani Bernard picked it up. Left guard Michael Jordan got backed into the pocket by Jonathan Allen and bodies collided back there.

But until that point, Jordan and the line had cleared out things for 255 yards. And Taylor had enough confidence in the line to fling it. Burrow had 29 passes at the half. In his second NFL game he had 28 at the half against Cleveland and ended up throwing a rookie-record 61 passes. Taylor vehemently defended his line.

"We gave up a lot of pressure in the beginning of the season. In these last couple weeks our guys have done a great job of keeping people off Joe. He's had a great pocket," Taylor said. "The hit, as I saw it, wasn't with the ball in his hand. People keep talking about the offensive line without seemingly watching the film for the last four weeks. Again, those guys have done a good job, it's been a revolving door of players they have been doing a great job. Joe has done a great job moving us down the field. We felt like we were making a lot of progress over the last five weeks and we are not going to apologize for any of that."

November. January. A rookie. An MVP candidate.

Still, eerily similar. Right down to the respect factor as his teammates gathered around the cart. Even many of his opponents, one thing that didn't happen that night nearly 15 years ago against the Steelers.

"There is a tremendous amount of respect for him," Taylor said, "and it was unfortunate to see what happened."

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