The first Joe Burrow-Justin Herbert duel has an asterisk about the size of Burrow's swollen throwing pinky finger.
Herbert was brilliant in the Chargers' 41-22 victory Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. But on his fifth snap of the game, Burrow had the ball ripped out of his hand on outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu's blind-side speed sack-strip that ended with Burrow at the bottom of the pile in his unsuccessful bid to recover the fumble.
After wincing through 24 of 40 passes for 300 yards (his eighth 300-yard game) and nearly overseeing the Bengals' first ever comeback from a 24-point deficit, Burrow confirmed it was a dislocation and vowed he wouldn't miss a game.
That seems to be the feeling. Nothing Russell Wilson major and barring anything surprising he'll try to get that second win of the three-game homestand in next Sunday's game against the 49ers.
"I was able to finish the game, so unless it somehow gets worse, which I can't imagine it's going to get worse, then I will play next week," Burrow said. "I feel I was able to compensate for what was lost. It probably was not as much zip as I normally have, but I was still able to throw the ball effectively."
Burrow didn't start to feel it until later and he didn't show signs of it bothering him until 2:40 left in the half, after he scored on a six-yard scramble up the middle to cut it to 24-13. It was throbbing and he looked down and it was swelling.
"I didn't notice what happened at the beginning," Burrow said. "My adrenaline was pumping too much. As it went along, it got progressively worse. I was able to play through it."
Burrow tried taping it. He tried putting on a glove. ("Eventually I just said to hell with all of that.") At one point it looked like he was screaming in pain as he released the ball while throwing on the sidelines. He stopped throwing, but just for an instant. He said he never thought about coming out. He ended up not putting anything on it at all.
"That never crossed my mind," said Burrow of coming out. "It's just something I'm going have to deal with. I'm not going to miss any games because of it. That's not something that is going to happen."
His coaches and teammates shrugged. They're not surprised by what they get from the guy's toughness. He hung in there despite getting sacked a season-high six times and hit five more times.
"We didn't talk about it. He just went out there and threw the ball," said head coach Zac Taylor. "I don't think he had any accuracy issue because of any (injury). So, he was fighting through something; he's a tough guy."
Burrow threw the ball well enough that wide receiver Tee Higgins had career-day with nine catches for 138 yards.
"To me he was throwing the ball pretty well. I'm pretty sure it was affecting him, but us as receivers, the ball is in the air, it's our job to catch it," Higgins said. "I saw it when it happened. He went to the sideline to get it checked on. I just let him be. I knew he was going to fight through it and finish."
He also was handing it off left-handed. Running back Joe Mixon noticed, but didn't think it was a problem with timing.
"I doubt it. At the same time, like I said, it was just, the little things, we've got to take care of the little things," Mixon said. "I'm not worried about that. I guess it's his pinkie, he fought through the game. He's a warrior and I'm just happy everybody got out of there as healthy as possible."
Burrow also threw the ball well enough that he would have had a 71-yard touchdown pass on a lovely over-the-shoulder throw to rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase on the next series that was dropped into the arms of Chargers cornerback Michael Davis. Chargers coach Brandon Staley said he didn't think Burrow was affected by the injury and seemed to indicate he had more of a problem with his defense's pressure.
"I knew that we were rushing him really well, so that's more what I was seeing," Staley said. "Our pass rush was really effective. We knew outside there would be a lot of double-wide routes to try and keep him protected. So, they were looking more at a passing game that we'd have to defend. We've got a lot of confidence in our pass rush. In 40 attempts, I think he was 5.7 yards per attempt today, and we got the big takeaways."
Ironically, the pressure came even though their top sacker, end Joey Bosa, went on one of the first plays. Staley agreed that his club blitzed more than usual and went with a five-man line as well.
"I think when Joey went out, that was a component. You know, you're four-man rush is going to look different, so we felt adding an extra guy to the rush and giving them some different personnel groupings to assess, that it would be an advantage," Staley said.