In his first NFL prime-time game and second start, Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow won over everybody but the scoreboard in the 35-30 loss to the Browns in Cleveland.
It was a record-setting performance, but not the kind he was looking for when he became the first Bengals quarterback to throw 60 passes in a regulation game when he put it up 61 times. His 37 completions were three shy of the record Ken Anderson set in an epic 1982 loss to Hall-of-Famer Dan Fouts, which means the game isn't all that different from nearly 40 years ago.
A lot of passes don't usually do it. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield didn't have to play like a Hall-of-Famer when he got 215 yards rushing, but he bit them with a deadly efficiency on 16 of 23 for 219 yards that was in stark contrast to Burrow's miniscule yards per attempt.
But put Mayfield in that growing cadre of Joey's Pals. After LeBron himself tweeted how special he thought Burrow is and fellow overall No. 1 pick and Fox analyst Troy Aikman predicting greatness, Mayfield chimed in.
"You could tell and it is true, the hype is real with Joe," Mayfield said post-game. "I thought he played extremely well. Just being decisive, keeping plays extended and taking care of the ball, I thought he did a great job. It is always good to see another young guy come in and take over. Obviously, that team loves him, they follow him and he leads them."
But Burrow wasn't pleased. He calculated it may be the first time in his sporting career that the former Ohio High School All-State basketball guard has lost two straight games. Head coach Zac Taylor is 0-2 for a second straight season knowing the only time an 0-2 Bengals team that made the playoffs won the first AFC Central the season before Anderson was drafted 49 years ago.
"Losing isn't very fun," Burrow said. "It doesn't feel very good. I know that the guys in there are hurting. We are going to come back to work tomorrow and try to get this thing right. Losing is unacceptable to me, to everyone in there, to Coach Taylor and to everybody in this organization. We are just going to have to get it fixed."
Still, Burrow stood tall with his first three NFL touchdown passes, all five fourth-down conversions and a bottomless well of grit. The fact he could stand was even noteworthy. He kept them in a game the defense couldn't keep close and with the Browns knowing he had to throw he took an ungodly number of shots and now has Bengaldom concerned about just how many of these games he can endure.
Three sacks. Seven hits. His first career sack-and-strip executed by the rampaging Myles Garrett on his own one-yard line.
"Yep," Burrow said when asked if he can keep taking the hits all season. "I'm good. I feel good."
And you can count Garrett among Joey's Pals.
"The guy is tough. He took a lot of shots, and he bounced right back up," Garrett said. "He was still putting deep ones on the money and he always kept his eyes downfield. He was never really worried about the rush, unless it was really on him. That is better than some veteran quarterbacks. He has a ways to go, but he is already off to a good start. I am impressed by him."
Burrow may have felt good, but he didn't feel good about the offense. His only completion of more than 20 yards was his first NFL touchdown pass, a 23-yarder floated down the left sideline to tight end C.J. Uzomah splitting the cornerback and safety and Burrow putting it on his numbers to pull the Bengals to 14-10 with nine minutes left in the first half.
The 61 passes netted just 316 yards, less than six yards a throw. He couldn't connect with wide receiver A.J. Green on 10 of 13 targets. They couldn't punch it in from the Browns 1 when they had a chance to cut it to 28-21 at the end of the third quarter, a sequence all say turned the game.
"We dropped a pass. We had a MA (missed assignment) on the play, and then we dropped a pass, as well, that looked like it would have been a touchdown from my angle," Zac Taylor said. "We had some negative-yardage runs there that really killed us. That is the turning point right there. I think we were down eight at the time, looking to score and go for two. We already had a 2-point conversion called, and then the touchdown gets called back. That was the discouraging part of the game."
In the end, Burrow was terrific taking what he could get, he just couldn't get enough. It appeared that the Browns, burned by running back Joe Mixon's career-high 162 yards in last season's finale, sold out to stop to the run and the Bengals couldn't make them pay with Green.
"They started playing more two-high. He was playing well at the beginning of the game," Burrow said. "I missed some throws to A.J. again. I am just going to have to fix that. I can't keep missing throws to A.J. when he gets open like he does."
The goal-line sequence was tough to watch. They did everything but score. Their stud back, Mixon, got tossed for a four-yard loss when he had to bounce outside. Maybe their most reliable wide receiver, Tyler Boyd, dropped what would have been a touchdown pass at the near pylon when he ran before he had it. And that was a nice ball from Burrow as he got blown up by that other overall No. 1, Garrett. Burrow then kept a zone read and got jolted for nearly a 10-yard loss. Uzomah, maybe gone for the year with an injured Achilles late in the game, was called for pass interference when he bowled over linebacker B.J. Goodson in the end zone.
"If I score that touchdown," Boyd said, "we're in there."
It just shows you the kind of frustrating moments that defined this one because Boyd was gold any other moment all night. He led the Bengals receivers with seven catches for 72 yards, three of them on fourth down for 37 yards. Just like he was Andy Dalton's safety blanket, Boyd has become Burrow's rescue inhaler.
They hooked up on Burrow's last throw of the night and, fittingly, Burrow was on the run, stepping up and throwing a nine-yard heater to Boyd on the back of the end line. Boyd made a great play keeping his feet against Goodson for the touchdown.
"My guys were getting open for me. They did a great job all night," Burrow said. "(Boyd) has kind of been my go-to on fourth down. He has been awesome for me. I love working with all my guys. (Bengals WR) Mike Thomas, I thought, played really, really well. I would go to war with any of these guys any day of the week."
The Boyd dropped summed up Burrow's big, but tough, bruising night on the big stage.
"I know he is frustrated with himself. I know I can put it on his facemask better, as well," Burrow said. "He played a really, really good game. He is hard on himself, just like I am hard on myself. We are going to get this thing right. You can count on that."