And ultimately, Burrow gritted through a gutsy performance while attempting 49 passes as the Bengals beat the Los Angeles Rams 19-16 on Monday at Paycor Stadium.
Here are five takeaways from the win, which moves the Bengals to 1-2:
1. Burrow suffered “no setbacks”
Burrow said he knew Sunday he would probably be good enough to play, despite a week in which he was limited by calf soreness after tweaking it at the end of the Week 2 loss to the Ravens. He did a workout Monday morning at the stadium, and that settled it. The outing wasn’t his best but he came through it “with no setbacks,” and now he feels like it will continue to get better every week.
The offense was sloppy in the first half – Burrow made some bad passes and had to throw more balls away than he normally would because of lack of mobility. On top of his limitations, three false starts on third downs impacted drives that ended in punts, and a pass interference call on Tee Higgins negated his near touchdown.
However, Burrow seemed to grow more comfortable as the game went on. In the third quarter, he rolled out of the pocket and connected with Chase on a 13-yard pass on third down of a drive that eventually ended in Mixon’s touchdown. On the next possession, he hit Chase on a 43-yard fake pitch, pistol pass but a Higgins drop forced the Bengals to settle for a field goal and a 16-9 lead.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said it wasn’t intended for Burrow to throw as much as he did because a lot of those were run/pass options, but Burrow is “a competitor.”
2. Defense came up big
The defense had two goal-to-go stops in the first half, forcing the Rams to settle for field goals, and the visitors didn’t get a touchdown until desperation time in the fourth quarter — too late in the game with 1:03 left.
Logan Wilson had both interceptions, including one off a pass Mike Hilton tipped in the red zone after the Bengals had taken a 13-9 lead in the third quarter. The defense’s six sacks were the most in a single game under fifth-year defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.
Back-to-back sacks by Hendrickson and B.J. Hill in the fourth quarter pushed the Rams deep into their own territory, and the offense set up at their 40-yard line for a field goal drive to extend Cincinnati’s lead to 19-9.
“It was a good ego check,” Hendrickson said of the 0-2 start putting pressure on the defense. “We needed to kind of clean some things up on film and again, credit to Lou, got us back to our fundamentals, what made us special in the past couple years and how we can get to that level as this team as we find our defensive identity, so I think this is a good building block. I don’t think we’ve accomplished anything at this point being 1-2 so we need to continue in a positive direction.”
3. Chase gets his wish
Chase complained earlier this week about the lack of deep shots in the Bengals’ gameplans so far this season. Apparently, the coaching staff listened because Burrow turned to Chase often – on 15 of his pass attempts.
“Every game is a little different,” Taylor said when asked about the challenges getting the explosive plays going. “First week was a rain game against one of the better fronts in football. Baltimore is pretty hell-bent on as much two-safety and helping on top of our receivers as possible. This week is the same thing, with Aaron Donald up front so they play as soft as humanly possible to keep everything in front and make you go the length of the field. Your defense has to play well then. We have to continue to be patient, creative, and take advantage of the shots when we get them. We may see a lot of that this year with the receivers we have. You have to get used to it.”
Chase stepped up Monday while Higgins struggled a bit with a couple drops and an offensive pass interference call. His extended-arm shove on the defender guarding him in the second quarter negated a pass that would’ve put the Bengals on the 1-yard line, and they ended up punting instead.
Burrow said he went into the day knowing he was going throw to Chase because he could tell all week that Chase was feeling confident. He and Chase connected on the biggest play of the season on that 43-yarder, and Chase ended up with his first 100-yard game in Week 3.
“It was good to just get the offense going — get the team going,” Chase said. “That’s what I’m here to do. I just do my job.”
4. Offensive line held up
Last weekend, center Ted Karras said the offensive line would have to be nearly perfect to help Burrow through his calf issues, and while they weren’t perfect this week, it was a much better showing than two years ago in Super Bowl LVI when a completely different office of line gave up seven sacks, including a ton of pressure from Aaron Donald. Donald had one sack and hit Burrow one other play, but otherwise the Bengals were able to contain him.
“There’s no asterisk,” Karras said Monday. “I want to be perfect. He’s (Donald) a freak obviously, going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I say he’s the best interior defensive lineman since Alex Karras, so there’s no moral victory in that. I never want to see that happen. I think he hit Joe one other time. Sucks, but it is what it is. We did enough to win the game.”
Burrow was sacked twice total by the Rams, and the Bengals were able to maintain a pocket for Burrow to stay in until he got more comfortable moving around in the second half.
5. Important victory
The win wasn’t pretty, but it was important for the Bengals to bounce back from the 0-2 start to the season following AFC North losses to Cleveland and Baltimore.
Cincinnati’s record played a big role in Burrow’s decision to play, knowing the risk of setback by doing so. The idea of going 0-3 was unbearable, and he wanted to help his team. History shows teams that lose their first three games are unlikely to make the playoffs, and the Bengals have high expectations for a third straight divisional title, AFC Championship game appearance and a return to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.
In the Super Bowl era, only 2.4% of 0-3 teams have overcome such a start to make the postseason, but it hasn’t happened since the NFL expanded the regular season to 17 games. The last 0-3 team to make the playoffs was the 2018 Houston Texans.
“It was part of the reason I wanted to play, I think,” Burrow said. “You go 0-3 — obviously, a lot of football left to be played — but 0-3 sounds a lot worse than 1-2. Morale is probably a lot lower when you’re 0-3, so it’s a big win for us. It was good to get on the board. I think we’ll be able to put something together now.”
Bengals at Titans, 1 p.m., Fox, 1530, 102.7, 104.7