They are calling MVP candidate Joe Burrow "Joe Cool," these days in honor of Joe Montana. Pure Hall of Fame irony that the current Bengals quarterback has lifted the nickname of the man who beat the Bengals twice in the Super Bowl before Burrow took them there in the last minute again back in February.
Burrow may have Montana's cool, but he has breezed to the top of the NFL passing stats in his third season with the same chilly efficiency of another Hall-of-Famer with eerily comparable statistics, pocket presence, last-minute heartbreak and a tie to a coach named Jimmy Burrow.
Burrow, second in the league with 287 yards per game, needs 255 on Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the Browns at Paycor Stadium to tie Kurt Warner for the third fewest games to reach 11,000 passing yards as he heads into his 39th game.
That would come three games after Burrow tied Warner for the third fewest games to reach 10,000 with 36. It took Warner 35 games to reach 75 touchdown passes. Burrow is three shy of 75 and the only one between him and Warner on that list is Sunday opponent Deshaun Watson with 75 touchdown passes in 41 games.
More Pop Warner than Joe Cool. And Warner says Burrow can do the stuff of Tom Terrific.
"I think Joe and I play the game very, very similarly," says Warner, who has taken his efficiency to the microphone as an NFL Network analyst. "Our super powers are ability to decipher defenses, to get the ball out on time, our ability to be accurate in those situations. Yeah, if I look at anybody that plays right now, I would say there's a lot of similarities between the way Joe plays and I played. He's one of the guys I love to watch because of that."
It turns out Warner is the NFL quarterback Burrow has known the longest. Technically. Burrow turns 26 Saturday, which means he spent the first year of his life going to Iowa Barnstormers game in the Arena Football League, where his dad Jimmy was the assistant head coach and secondary coach while Warner led them to a second straight and last ArenaBowl appearance before the club was sold and Warner went to NFL Europe.
"I saw Kurt throw his first and last pass in the Arena League," Jimmy Burrow says. "The thing about Arena ball is every practice is throw, throw, throw. He just got better and better and better and we're seeing that with Joe, also….That was his thing in Arena football. His accuracy. Get the ball out quickly and toughness … It was so different, so fast-paced, it helped Kurt along the way. He had to see things fast, get the ball out fast and be accurate."
Sound familiar? It does to Jimmy Burrow, who may like the off-field similarities with his son and Warner even better.
"He was a leader. Guys liked playing with him. People in Des Moines and Iowa gravitated toward him, a lot of good qualities that Joe has also," Jimmy Burrow says. "If somebody said you have to pick a guy you would like Joe be like on and off the field, that would be one of the first names that came to my mind because Kurt is a really good person. Great character and a great player."
Comparisons are always uneasy and so is this one. Jimmy Burrow says his son doesn't want to be compared to Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. "He knows he's not in that stratosphere yet." But the numbers supplied by Elias are still stunning. In their first 38 starts, Burrow has completed 68.5 percent of his passes, Warner 66.4. Burrow's passer rating is 101.3, Warner 102.1. Burrow has thrown 45 more touchdowns than interceptions, Warner 38.
"I watch the game the way I played the game," Warner says. "And he does it as well as anybody. Getting it to the right guy. It may not be flashy, liked some of these other guys, but to me, that's flashy. If you can give me a guy that sees it quickly, deciphers it and gets the ball out on time, that's special. Everyone else sees special as run to your right, throw it 70 yards down field, run though a guy or run around. I don't because the one thing we continue to see in this league is if you can play the game inside the pocket and do the things I'm talking about, you always have a chance to win.
"If you're going to depend on all the special stuff, it's great and you can still win with guys. But you still have to be able to do the other. I think the other stuff comes back to get you … (If) they do what Joe does in the pocket, you just know that guy is always going to have a chance. Yeah , he may be a more limited in the special stuff in regards to running around, although he's running better this year. You very seldom see guys win championships that don't play the game inside the pocket. That's what excited me about Joe and where he's at right now. He's young and that will sustain him for however long he wants to play this game. It's Tom Brady-type stuff."
Warner kept in touch with Jimmy Burrow after those years in Iowa and got to know Joe along the way. When Warner's son committed to Nebraska, he reached out to Jimmy, an old Cornhuskers defensive back, and when Joe hit the NFL Warner has tried to help with encouraging texts and occasional phone calls.
Most famously Joe Burrow invoked Warner's name moments after the Super Bowl loss. In the week leading up to the game he had watched a documentary about Warner and how he regretted that he and his teammates didn't celebrate the Rams' dominant 2001 season spoiled on the Patriots' last-play field goal in the Super Bowl.
"I kind of thought about this in the locker room when they lost one," Burrow said that night in Los Angeles. "Later within the documentary they said, or he said, that they let it sting too much and that they didn't celebrate what they accomplished. So, we are going to, obviously it stings, but you know we had a great year, and it didn't come out this last game like we wanted to, but I think, we still have something to celebrate."
Warner says he talked to Burrow about it after that and they still keep in touch. He prefers not to divulge their conversations, but the post-Super Bowl chat did focus on celebrating the moment instead of moving into the next season trying to make it all right. The Rams not only lost the chance to savor it, but their first five games of the next season.
"It's been a great experience knowing the family and then seeing what's happened," Warner says. "We'll text back and forth here and there. We've built a relationship over the years. Not talking on a daily or weekly basis but being available. I like to put myself in front of (young quarterbacks), 'What can I do to help you?' Maybe send them a note here or there, or congratulate him on a game or moment."
If he's texting him now, it's about keeping it going. Warner and his endless stream of big-play Rams were called "The Greatest Show On Turf." Burrow has plenty of nicknames and while the Bengals don't, Warner sees the same swashbuckling, no-smoke-and-mirrors style.
"They're not a team that throws the ball at the line of scrimmage. Not that they don't do that, but that's not the primary part of their game," Warner says. "Where Joe is different is that stuff between 10 and 35 yards and he can obviously throw the ball deep. That's what I love, too. They're not some of these teams that run half their plays at the line of scrimmage.
"They're playing football and he's making throws. That's what we did so well. We attacked down the field. We threw the ball and we were efficient throwing the ball down the field. It played to my strengths and it played to our strengths. He's really good playing this game down the field at the second level, which I believe is the difference maker."
The numbers keep stacking. Warner is going to keep watching and texting.
"I love to watch him play," says the quarterback who has known Joe Burrow the longest.