Joe Burrow, the highest-paid lobbyist in America, spent last week convincing his coaches and medical staff that his strained right calf could survive Monday night's Paycor Stadium game with the Rams.
Then he went out and showed his teammates why you can never count him or them out in a 19-16 victory that may have not been pretty but defined the success of the Burrow Era.
Must wins. Clutch playmakers. Opportunistic defense. A deafening prime-time crowd, now 5-0 in the 2020s when, as head coach Zac Talyor says, the lights are on.
"That's really why we've been so good. The coaching staff has a great relationship with everybody in the locker room, and that trust has been built," Burrow said. "Not just me, but everyone in that locker room feels comfortable going up and talking to Zac and all the coaches and being honest and open. I think that's going to continue to be a big reason why we win."
And, Burrow in the middle of it all, finding a way even if he's not at his mobile best. On this White Out White Tiger uniform night of 65,158, the defense whitewashed the Rams while Burrow painted in between the lines.
Stack this one up with the must wins against the Raiders right after the 2021 bye. Or the win in Denver a few weeks later to stop a two-game slide. Or the Jets game last year down 0-2, or the win in New Orleans a few week later to get back to 3-3. Or any of the 10 straight wins last year to finish the season.
"I think this is him,' said wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, when asked how far Burrow is from Burrow. "He just proved it tonight playing hurt, too. He's Joe Cool, Joe Brrr. Whatever you want. He's that guy."
It turns out Chase may have been the hardest guy to convince. Ever since Burrow went down the second day of training camp, Chase has been telling him to rest it. That's what he told Burrow sitting on the bench during Monday's pregame. He asked Burrow if he was playing. Burrow told him he was.
"He was excited. He was excited," Burrow said.
But after the game, Chase told him rest would do him good.
"I told him again after the game, you got bleeps. I don't want you to play. That just shows Joe is hardheaded, but he's a football player, man," Chase said. "You can't knock him being tough like that. There aren't too many quarterbacks tough like that."
Or, as middle linebacker Logan Wilson said, " "He understands the importance of it. That's the type of guy that you want leading this team and this organization. That's why they pay him the big bucks."
Center Ted Karras: "Proud of Joe Burrow, What a maniac he is going out there and gritting out a win on a hurt calf."
Burrow gets it. He didn't tune out the people that were telling him to sit it out and to worry about the long-term big picture. It's just that at 0-3, Burrow thought there was no future.
"It was all stuff that you weigh when you're making that decision. There is the risk to go out there and potentially re-injure it, but there's also the risk to not go out there and be 0-3," Burrow said. "So, I wanted to be out there for my guys, and I was confident that I would be able to do what I needed to get the win."
This wasn't vintage Burrow, bouncing in the pocket, extending plays on the perimeter, keeping plays alive. The Rams could tell you that.
"He really wasn't moving too much. He would stand still, and just get the ball out quick," said the great defensive tackle Aaron Donald. "He made some good throws. I feel like we could have gotten some more pressure on him at times, because he wasn't moving, and just standing still in the pocket."
But it was enough to win the ninth Paycor Stadium game between quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall. Burrow has played in four of them, losing to Baker Mayfield twice but beating Stafford and Trevor Lawrence. Stafford has lost two of them 14 years apart to Burrow and Carson Palmer. Chase, a first-rounder himself, and Burrow are basically blood brothers. Bayou blood from their national title days at LSU. If one is struggling, so is usually the other one. With Chase having just 70 yards in two games and his longest catch 13 yards, Burrow knew he had to make it change.
"Coming into this game, I was going to feed my guy. He was due for one," Burrow said. "I knew he was going to have a big game. Just the way he was talking all week, he was excited to play this one. He showed up big for us. He showed why he's one of the best."
Chase was terrific with a dozen catches for 141 yards, just one catch shy of wide receiver Carl Pickens' team record. It was his biggest game since he set the rookie record with 266 yards against the Chiefs in the next-to-last game of 2021. The one they both needed, the 43-yarder, came on an encouraging move. It was a misdirection play-action fake and Burrow rolled naked to the right edge and Chase, with the most space he's had all year, was wide open for the Bengals' longest offensive play of the year that set up a field goal that made it 16-9.
"That was a discussion we had the last few days, whether we felt comfortable with it. I asked him a few plays before and he felt good about it," said head coach Zac Taylor. "It's a quick toss, probably seven steps before he whipped out the bench route to Ja'Marr. He did a great job, snapped his head around and was ready for 97 (Michael Hoecht) on the edge. Ja'Marr did a great job coming out of it and selling it like he was on the backside of the run."
Chase: "The run-action the other way was key. It got the defense flowing."
But the longest play wasn't the play that showed they may be getting back their precious timing. That came on a third-and-10 with the Bengals trailing, 9-6, in the third quarter. Staring at a third-and-10 from the Rams 44, they looked like they were coming away with no points until Burrow audibled, threw a beautiful back-shoulder ball in the middle of the field, and Chase caught it behind him for 13. They scored their only touchdown on that drive.
"Joe changed the play. That was a good audible by Joe," Chase said. "He threw a back shoulder so I didn't get hit. He was helping me not collide from the safety coming down. That's a good ball."
Never has Burrow uncorked as low as a 59 passer rating and won. Just fine, he says. The Bengals are 1-2 and he answered the bell.
"I'd always rather throw for 400. I pride myself on my availability, and so I was happy to be available for my guys tonight," Burrow said. "Obviously, a lot of room to improve, but I was happy — happy to be out there."