Burrow Does It His Way As Bengals Shift AFC North Balance Of Power: "Let Me Be Me'

Joe Burrow savors Sunday's final seconds.
Joe Burrow savors Sunday's final seconds.

He is Seamless Joe, Franchise Joey and Joey B.

But after Sunday's breakthrough 41-17 dissection of the proud Ravens on their deadly jousting field, he is also Palooka Joe. Burrow bounded off the ropes in the first half like a heavyweight, sneered at Baltimore's signature pressure that bloodied him early and kept throwing haymakers until the 5-2 Ravens' vaunted man-to-man coverage left the field bruised and battered and in a tie with the 5-2 Bengals atop the AFC North.

Burrow's career-high 416 yards certified the Bengals as AFC contenders now that they suddenly lay claim to the conference's top playoff seed and it validated Burrow's enormous confidence in his playmakers being able to help him solve the many faces of the Baltimore blitz.

After knocking off the top team in the AFC with the Bengals' best offensive day in the 25 years of the Ravens rivalry, the 520-yard statement couldn't be missed by the locker room.

"It's the start of something new, something good," said tight end C.J. Uzomah, who isn't wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, but Burrow likes to throw to him almost as much. "We are trying to establish who we are as a team and put the league on notice that this isn't the Bengals of the past. This is the 2021 Bengals, and the past is the past."

Get the vibe? The Bengals are 2-0 in the division for the first time since 2015, when they also won their first two AFC North games of the season in Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

"I think it was a big statement, 2-0 in the division for the first time that I can remember," said Burrow, who was a freshman at Ohio State the last time it happened. "You know the most exciting thing was the last two or the last three drives where they knew we were going to run the ball, and the O-line really took it to them. That was exciting to see. I know those guys were fired up about that, so that's how you should finish the game – start out throwing the ball, get out on top, and then the O-line finishes it off."

While the running game finished it off so nicely after struggling early, what happened Sunday was one of those games defining Burrow's rise into the upper tier of NFL quarterbacks. Sunday's development matches their rise to contender as the Bengals knew it would.

It turned out the Ravens defense wasn't as inscrutable as it looked a year ago when Burrow was bludgeoned 15 times in a loss on that same field when they could manage just a late field goal. Both Burrow and the Bengals took the next step in Zac Taylor's first 40-point game as head coach.

"We knew what they do is they make you, they put you in a lot of one-on-one matchups, so you have to win," Burrow said after his third straight road win. "And that's why guys get paid. You've got to go win the one-on-one matchup, and we have guys that did that today in the second quarter and the second half. We really won all of our one-on-one matchups that really mattered."

The Ravens made it ugly as they always do in the first quarter. Burrow was just 5 of 13 for 54 yards. But once the Bengals started changing up their protections a tad and maybe going with a little more maximum protect, the Bengals got rolling. The rest was another coming out party. Burrow hit 18 of his last 25 for an unconscious 362 yards and he survived his end-zone interception with touchdown passes of 82, 55 and 32 yards in a clinic.

Exhibit A: After not getting sack but bounced around in a half the Bengals were one of seven on third down, Burrow went deep on first down out of a triple tight end set with Burrow under center and one of those tight ends, Drew Sample, fending off rampaging tackle Calais Campbell just long enough for Burrow to hit another tight end, Uzomah, for a 55-yard touchdown.

"Our O-line did a much better job picking up the twists in the games up front, and after that start," Burrow said. "I really felt super comfortable back there, and there was almost no pressure the rest of the game. And then you know, like I said before, they put you in a lot of one-on-one matchups, and early they were winning the matchups, but I have a lot of confidence in our guys. And as the game went on, I kept putting them in those positions, and they started to make a bunch of plays, and we got the guys on the outside that it's tough to play that way against us."

Exhibit B: Down, 17-13, the Bengals set up a wide receiver screen with everyone flooded to the right and that's where all the Ravens went. Burrow ever so slightly faked a throw over to the flat and then saw Uzomah wide open one-on-one down the seam, where he flummoxed safety DeShon Elliott on a 32-yard touchdown.

Exhibit C: On third-and-two early in the third quarter and clinging to a 20-17 lead, the Bengals had been miserable again on third and short. At that point they were 0-for-3 on third-and-three or fewer.

This time they went with just a five-man protection out of the shot gun and everyone held up as Burrow got it out of his hand like it was a grenade and Chase did the rest. He got inside Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey on a slant, spun out of his grasp, made safety Chuck Clark miss and linebacker Justin Houston wasn't going to catch him as an 82-yard free runner that made it a 10-point game with a quarter and a half left.

"We have a lot of reps accumulated over the last three or four years," Burrow said of his old LSU teammate. "We've been together for a long time. I've been dealing with him on Saturdays since I was 21 years old, so that's what happens when you get all those reps accumulated. You understand the kinds of throws against leverage. You know, they were playing on top and press and so that's what opened up the back shoulder balls today and we've thrown back shoulders for the last three years and thrown them over and over and over again and that's what it takes to feel confident in those kinds of throws. It's just reps and reps and reps."

Chase says Burrow is one of those guys that helped teach him how to watch film. You don't see that chemistry on the 82-yarder. You see it on the come-backer on fourth-and-one where Burrow rifled it across the field to the sideline.

You also see it on their slew of back-shoulder throws. One went for 13 yards down the left sideline on the last drive of the first half and that got Humphrey off Chase's back and set up Chase to get inside Humphrey for the big 26-yarder that made possible Evan McPherson's 30-yard field goal with three seconds left to give them a 13-10 halftime lead.

But it was those darts across the field that Burrow zipped with such confidence that had him smiling as he senses the training camp mechanics showing up in the stats.

"There are a couple plays today where I feel more confident outside the numbers to the field," Burrow said, "and there are multiple times today where maybe I got it there, maybe I didn't, but I felt like I got some extra juice this year that allows me to make those kinds of throws."

But what was really big for Burrow was that he got that second shot against Baltimore that he didn't get last year. Just like the Bengals reversed last year's 65-6 domination without a touchdown in the two games against Baltimore, Burrow erased his 19 of 30 for 183 yards and one of his two career lows passer rating of 66.4.

"That's a great feeling," said Burrow after the sixth most prolific day by a Bengals passer. "That was the thing. I got injured last year that was one of the things I was most upset about was not getting a chance against our division multiple times. I've always felt like the more I play, you know, if you give me two chances against a team, I'm going to play much better the second time.

"That's just common sense in my head, and I didn't get that chance against Pittsburgh and Baltimore last year. You saw against the Browns last year I got better from Game 1 to Game 2, and that's what I try to do going forward."

But Seamless Joe or Franchise Joey or Joey B. or now even Joe Palooka, don't compare him to Joe Montana as Phil Simms did on CBS.

"Let's relax. Let's relax with all that. Let me be me," said Burrow, who quite plainly is Joey B.

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