This is why the Bengals drafted Joe Burrow.
Sure. There was the razor accuracy and dominant pocket presence and the national championship and the Heisman Trophy.
But after his first game as the Bengals franchise quarterback against the franchise they're chasing, after it all went so sour with a wobbly second half of five of 15 for 24 yards in a 36-10 loss to the undefeated Steelers in Pittsburgh in which they didn't convert a third down, he showed why the Bengals drafted him No. 1 overall.
"I was talking on the sideline, and I think we're in that game if I don't suck in the second half and I'm not going to suck a lot," Burrow said. "We're going to come back to work every day, and I'm excited to go back to practice on Wednesday and start getting these kinks worked out and move on to Washington."
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor didn't let Burrow take all the blame. He said his play-calling didn't allow them to get into a rythym early on. Taylor, in particular, called himself out on a play call in the last two minutes of the first half that turned into a crushing sack. It was only the Steelers' second of the game and it was off a gimmick with T.J. Watt stunting inside, but it took the Bengals out of field-goal range.
Yet it was remarkable to listen to Burrow on the postgame Zoom from Heinz Field. He took the blame for that sack and everything else but the pandemic.
"You hear me talk and I'm not too down in the dumps because I know I'm not going to play like that very often," Burrow said.
This is why they drafted him. After he hobbled off following two hits and a sack, Taylor let him play that last series even if it was just handing off for running back Trayveon Williams' first five NFL carries.
"I'm not a quitter. I'm not going out of the game. Doesn't matter if we're down 100, down 10, down 20. I'm not going out," Burrow said.
The Bengals need Burrow's steel-belted resilience, not to mention his rubber ankle. He insisted that when he rolled his ankle smashing into the Bengals bench in the last minute of the first half after linebacker Bud Dupree shoved him out of bounds had no impact on what followed.
The numbers are going to suggest something very different. Before Dupree shoved him (and he did help Burrow to his feet), Burrow was 15 of 24 for 170 yards. After, he was six of 16 for 33 yards.
"I mean, it wasn't a hit or anything. He might have pushed me a little weight, but it wasn't a hit. I just -- he gave me a little extra boost and I ended up rolling my ankle on the sideline," Burrow said.
Asked if he still felt it in the second half, he relented a bit.
"It doesn't matter," Burrow said.
The Steelers lead the league in sacks and quarterback hits and monster man T.J. Watt did work on the right side to get to Burrow for two of the four sacks. They blitz almost as much as anyone in the NFL and yet that's not what made Burrow so miserable Sunday.
He had time to do damage behind yet another re-built offensive line, but it was the coverage that sent them to a stunning 0-for-13 after three straight games he had them at nearly 60 percent on third down converting 24 of 41. It appeared that the Steelers preferred to disguise coverages and make Burrow read, rather than get him scrambling against the blitz and igniting his dangerous athleticism.
"We were expecting some of the draw plays and his mobility. We've been working all week on just trying to be more discipline in our rushing lanes," Watt said. "Overall, just did a good job of keeping him in the pocket the best we could and not let him use his legs … I think it's very important to welcome quarterbacks in the AFC North in an appropriate way … We know what Joe Burrow is. Their franchise quarterback, and we're just trying to let him know what he can expect when comes in Pittsburgh."
It looked like the Bengals had a favorable matchup when Steelers slot cornerback Mike Hilton didn't play, which figured to open it up for their leading receiver, slot receiver Tyler Boyd. Burrow went to him eight times, but they only got six catches out of it for 41 yards. Wide receiver A.J. Green was matched up much of the time on his old adversary Joe Haden in a replay of Georgia-Florida and Florida won Sunday when Green had no catches on five targets.
Only rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins had a day with seven catches for 115 yards and the only touchdown. And yet he didn't have a catch in the last 25 minutes.
Burrow went back to two throws early in the second half when they had a shot at 22-7. He had Higgins open down the right sideline on a double move past Haden and he had time on his first pass of the second half. But he overthrew him. That was a three-and-out.
Then on the next series, after Higgins made that last catch for a 13-yard crosser, Burrow couldn't get it to Boyd on the sidelines on third-and-nine. They had the matchup they wanted. Their best receiver on just activated rookie safety Antoine Brooks Jr., an undrafted guy playing his first NFL scrimmage snaps on Sunday. Boyd had him beat, but Burrow sailed it too high over his head and a great catch didn't hold up on the challenge when Boyd couldn't get his feet down on the sidelines.
"I just played terrible in the second half. A missed a lot of throws that I usually make. That was the game. I missed a lot of throws in the second half," Burrow said. "I thought we got our rhythm and then we came out in the second half flat and I didn't play very well. If I played better in the second half, I think we'd have a chance at the end.
"I missed a throw down the sideline there on the double move (to Higgins). That was a big play. I needed to hit that one. And then I missed TB on the sail route on the sideline that we ended up challenging, and he kind of bobbled it but that was a terrible throw from me that TB almost made a great play on. If I hit those two, I think the game is a little different."
Higgins, who had his second 100-yard game, was as surprised as anyone when they didn't click on the double move.
"We practiced it all week," Higgins said. "Just him missing me I know it got to him. I told him it's all right we are going to get it back."
That's not why they drafted Burrow.
This is why.
"I might play like that hopefully never again but maybe once a year," Burrow insisted. "There's no -- we're not down in the dumps or anything like that. I'm excited to get back to work."