Joe Burrow Is the Savior the Bengals Have Waited ForJanuary 16, 2022
The Cincinnati Bengals entered their AFC wild-card game against the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday having gone 31 years without a playoff win, the longest active streak of any NFL franchise. Their fans celebrated a 26-19 victory thanks in large part to quarterback Joe Burrow, who looked cool, calm and collected in his first postseason appearance.
After the game, head coach Zac Taylor went to the podium and essentially let out an exhale for those who supported the team through its disappointing seasons and playoff failures.
"I'm just really, really happy for the city of Cincinnati—that they get a chance to enjoy this," Taylor said.
Minutes after the final whistle, Burrow remained focused on the ultimate task at hand.
"We expected this. ... We took care of business. On to the next round," the quarterback said.
During the postgame press conference with reporters, Burrow maintained his typical relaxed attitude when asked about the team breaking through a playoff barrier:
That's the demeanor the Bengals need in their new era. Burrow isn't just happy to make the postseason and win a game. He has much bigger aspirations. While some may confuse his confidence for cockiness, the 25-year-old earned his stripes Saturday.
Burrow became the third quarterback selected No. 1 to win a playoff game within his first two seasons, joining Michael Vick (2002) and Andrew Luck (2013), per ESPN Stats & Info (h/t Ed Werder). The Raiders know he's the real deal.
Burrow went 24-of-34 passing for 244 yards and two touchdowns. Though one of his scores came with some controversy, credit to him for extending the play and finding wideout Tyler Boyd in the back of the end zone.
In the second half, Burrow didn't throw any touchdown passes, but he put his team in a position to seal the deal. Late in the game, the second-year signal-caller relied heavily on wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who finished with nine receptions for 116 yards. Tight end C.J. Uzomah had a few big-time catches, hauling in six passes for 64 yards and a touchdown.
Over the past month, the Raiders put together a four-game win streak with a stout defense that allowed an average of 19.8 points per game. Even though they gave up 32 points to the Los Angeles Chargers last week, the unit forced two turnovers in that contest.
On Saturday, Burrow didn't seem rattled at any moment, and most importantly, he took care of the ball.
By Week 9, Burrow threw 11 interceptions. Despite his gaudy passing numbers, he had a tendency to give away a possession or two, but the young signal-caller hasn't thrown an interception or lost a fumble since Week 13.
The Raiders stifled the Bengals' ground attack, holding them to 83 rushing yards on 3.3 yards per carry. Burrow controlled the tempo of the game and routinely completed crucial passes to Chase and Uzomah downfield. Cincinnati won because of him.
In the NFL, a franchise quarterback is a crucial piece of the puzzle for a contending squad. That's why teams trade multiple picks for signal-callers and use No. 1 overall selections to acquire them. Luckily for the Bengals, Burrow has been everything the franchise could have hoped for and more when they took him with the top pick in 2020.
He had shown flashes with a losing team before suffering a torn ACL and MCL that sidelined him for the final six weeks of his rookie campaign.
Even with a surgically repaired knee and a shaky offensive line that's largely responsible for Burrow taking a league-high 51 sacks, he's looked unflappable in the pocket.
As a result, the signal-caller deserves consideration as the 2021 Comeback Player of the Year. Despite an offseason with injury rehab, he's progressed significantly in his second term, leading the league in completion percentage (70.4) and yards gained per pass attempt (8.9).
In his mind, Chase likely understands that he doesn't capture the rookie receiving yards record (1,455) without Burrow under center. After the season finale, he even campaigned for his quarterback to win league MVP.
Make no mistake: Burrow has elevated the Bengals within a short period. After five consecutive losing seasons and three straight fourth-place finishes in the AFC North, they sit atop their division with a date set for the divisional round after the franchise's first postseason win in three decades.
On top of that, Burrow already holds the Bengals' record in passing yards (4,611) and touchdowns for a single season (34). He's bumped aside notable franchise quarterbacks such as Andy Dalton, Boomer Esiason and Carson Palmer in those categories.
Burrow isn't one to publicly boast about his individual accomplishments, but his passing production has come with team wins, giving fans reason to believe that he is the guy to take the club to new heights.
Born five years after the Bengals' last postseason win, Burrow is exactly what the club needs to stay in playoff contention for the foreseeable future. With arm talent, mobility and leadership, he's trending toward top-five territory among quarterbacks.
If Cincinnati advances to the AFC Championship Game, watch out. The signature chant of the fanbase is "Who Dey," and we may be left wondering: Who's going to beat dem Bengals?
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.