Archdeacon: Burrow still proving doubters wrong

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Zac Taylor talks Joe Burrow's recovery in the offseason

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

“You throw like a girl!”

“You’re a D-II quarterback!”

“You can’t throw!”

Those are some of the taunts Joe Burrow said he heard from Coach Urban Meyer during the three years he was with the Ohio State Buckeyes.

“He was really hard on me,” the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback said earlier this season.

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“Coach Meyer, when he gets a new quarterback there as a freshman he kind of pokes and prods them to see what they can take and if they can go out and execute while he’s back there yelling at them. He wants to see if a quarterback can handle it.”

Burrow said the Buckeyes coach wanted to see what he was made of.

Meyer never quite figured it out, or at least not until it was too late.

Burrow was redshirted his first year in Columbus and then relegated to the bench, getting only meaningless mop-up duty on the field.

Finally, when he’d more than paid his dues, Burrow found himself cast aside as Meyer fixed his attention – and the Bucks’ hopes – on big, howitzer-armed Dwayne Haskins.

Appearing on Fox Sports’ The Herd with Colin Cowherd, Meyer said he’d become sold on Haskins when he was in a high school. He called him the best high school quarterback he’d ever seen, better than most of the college quarterbacks he had ever been in contact with.

The sexism, the bullying, the myopic vision aside, Meyer did Burrow a big favor. He made him dig deep within himself – while also enlisting the help of quarterback guru Tom House to work on his arm strength – and become the quarterback who is now the talk of the NFL.

But for this to happen, Burrow had to transfer from Ohio State to LSU, where, in his second year, he had one of the greatest quarterbacking seasons in college football history, throwing for 5,671 yards and a whopping 60 touchdowns and ending up the NCAA leader in completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns and passer rating.

He went on to win the Heisman Trophy and then outduel Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence to lead LSU to the national title.

Now, just two seasons into his pro career, he’s doing some of the same things with the once-floundering Cincinnati Bengals.

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He guided them to a 12-7 record, the AFC North crown and just two weeks ago to a wildcard victory over Las Vegas, the club’s first playoff win in 31 years.

Last weekend he orchestrated the final-seconds defeat of the AFC’s top-seeded Tennessee Titans in Nashville. It was the Bengals first road playoff win ever and broke an 0-7 streak.

Today he leads Cincinnati into the loud, partisan confines of Arrowhead Stadium for the AFC Championship matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, who have been in this NFL semifinal game four years straight and won the Super Bowl two seasons ago.

Now the Bengals are one game away from their first trip to the NFL title game in 33 years.

This week I asked Burrow about his time at Ohio State and if any of those lessons serve him today.

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Ohio State’s Joe Burrow, left, is pushed out of bounds during the spring game on Saturday, April 14, 2018, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff

Ohio State’s Joe Burrow, left, is pushed out of bounds during the spring game on Saturday, April 14, 2018, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff

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Ohio State’s Joe Burrow, left, is pushed out of bounds during the spring game on Saturday, April 14, 2018, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff

“Yeah, I wouldn’t be the same player that I am today without those trials and tribulations that I went through there.

“I loved my time there. I stay in contact with a lot of people from Ohio State and, like I said, I wouldn’t be the same player. I think I am who I am because of the difficult times I went through in my career.

“If you look at all the quarterbacks that were in the playoffs, a lot of them have gone through a lot of adversity throughout their careers – whether it was early in high school without offers or after college, not getting drafted high or having to go to junior college or anything like that.

“I think part of what makes certain people great is the adversity they had to go through.”

‘His standard is greatness’

Coming out of Athens High School – where he led the Bulldogs to the Division III state final in 2014, was named Ohio’s Mr. Football and was voted by his classmates both “most athletic” and “most likely to be famous,” Burrow wanted to play for Nebraska, where his dad and two brothers had played.

The Cornhuskers passed on him, as did may other schools. He got a few offers – Minnesota, Kentucky, Boston College and Iowa State – but took no college visits and enrolled at Ohio State, where he redshirted his first season in 2015.

The following year he was J.T. Barrett’s little-used backup and as the next season approached, it appeared it would be more of the same. But in August of 2017, he broke his hand on defender’s helmet in practice and had surgery, which sidelined him a month.

Haskins was coming off a redshirt season and Meyer was enamored with him and made him the back-up, causing Burrow to slide back down the depth chart.

It was a tough time for Burrow and last week his mother, Robin – a principal at Eastern Elementary School in Meigs County – recounted to Sports Illustrated how she’d drive up to Columbus on Sundays, just to take him out for ice cream and lift his spirits.

That following spring – even though Burrow shined in the annual intra-squad game and hoped to be the 2018 starter because Barrett was graduating – he was told by Meyer that Haskins likely would be the starter.

After spending three years at OSU and getting in just 10 games – where he totaled 29 completions in 39 attempts for 287 yards and two touchdowns – Burrow decided to transfer.

Nebraska again passed on him and he ended up at LSU, where he had wowed the coaches when he sat with them in a film session and explained what he saw and what a quarterback should do.

And when the 2018 season began – even as Haskins did shine for one season at OSU and throw for 50 TDs before going to the NFL and, so far, floundering because of his immaturity – Burrow showed he was more than just a guy who took center snaps.

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December 28, 2019 Atlanta - LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) gets off a pass n the first half of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, December 28, 2019. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

December 28, 2019 Atlanta - LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) gets off a pass n the first half of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, December 28, 2019. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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December 28, 2019 Atlanta - LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) gets off a pass n the first half of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, December 28, 2019. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

He became a true leader and that came to full fruition in the 2019 championship season.

In Cincinnati, new head coach Zac Taylor – who won just two games in his inaugural Bengals’ season – saw an answer to his prayers in Burrow.

The Bengals had the first pick in the draft and the LSU quarterback became the perfect player to help him change not only the team’s on-field fortunes, but the culture of the long-struggling franchise.

“His standard is greatness,” Taylor explained this week.

Many leftover players were weeded out, new young players were brought in and they bought in.

Burrow made the sell a lot easier by his play on the field, both in his ability to get the ball to his receiver and the toughness he continually showed, especially in returning surprisingly fast from major knee surgery following a devastating injury he suffered in a Nov. 22 game against Washington that rookie season.

This year – as Burrow set one franchise passing record after another – and the Bengals notched big wins down the stretch – blowing out Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, edging Denver and coming from behind to beat Kansas City – the rallying cry, at first, was “Why Not Us”?

When the team rolled over Las Vegas again in the playoffs and followed it up with last Saturday’s 19-16 victory over the Titans, Burrow told his teammates to shed the “Why Not?” motto – it seemed to passive – and change the mantra to “It Is Us!”

On Friday, Burrow talked about his role during his lunchtime press session:

“As the quarterback, it’s important to be an extension of the coaching staff to you guys (the media) and in the locker room. Just to portray the message that the head coach wants to portray throughout the team.

“I don’t always have something to say, but when I feel I have something worth hearing, I try to speak up and say my piece. If you start to say too much, guys kind of tune you out. I try to pick my spots here and there, to really have a message, not every day, but maybe once or twice a week.”

Mixed in with his inspiration and his grit, there is a fresh-faced but sometimes edgy swagger – from the X-rated cap he wore after he LSU title game to the Krusty Krab T-shirt he donned after the Vegas win to the cigars he smokes after big victories – that all his teammates seem amused by and drawn to.

The result has been something special. The other players all look to Burrow as their leader and it’s made for a remarkable bond you often don’t see among a collection of highly-paid pro athletes.

The Bengals have a youthful exuberance about them and they embrace tenets like selflessness, teamwork and dedication, all for a common goal. At least for now that’s kept the things like ego, cynicism and greed that so often detour pro ventures from taking hold.

“We’re a young team,” Burrow said last weekend. “We don’t know what we don’t know. We’re out there playing football with our friends.”

Safety Vonn Bell echoed that thought a few days ago, when he explained the team’s mindset: “Lean on your brother. We’re all we got and that’s all we need. We want to keep on making history.”

‘I play to get to this moment’

Last Saturday against the Titans, Burrow – who was sacked 51 times in the regular season, the most in the league – again showed his toughness.

He was sacked a playoff record nine times and hit on 13 occasions. He also had a brief stretch where the headphones went out and he had to call his own plays – “they all worked,” he beamed – and against all that, he ended passing for 348 yards, six short of the Bengals playoff record held by Ken Anderson.

His most impressive throw came with 20 seconds left in the game and the score tied, 16-16.

He rifled a pinpoint pass to his favorite target, LSU buddy Ja’Marr Chase, on the right sideline for 19 yards and just like that, the sure-footed rookie kicker, Evan McPherson, was in range for the game winning 52-yard field goal he kicked as time expired.

This past week both Taylor and Chase recounted how Burrow had read the Tennessee defensive signal before the play and made an instant protection adjustment that made the throw possible.

Although the Chiefs – who have been to the last two Super Bowls – are seven-point favorites. Burrow and his teammates are unfazed.

Maybe it is “we don’t know what we don’t know,” but Burrow exudes confidence, not ignorance.

“I think we can beat anybody in the league and I think we proven that,” he said Friday.

“There are reasons I play football. I play to get to this moment, to make plays and take advantage of my opportunities and if I never got to the position I’m in right now – to play in the AFC Championship game and have a chance to go to the Super Bowl – that would be tough for me mentally.

“To work hard in the offseason and come in and go .500 every year and be a fringe playoff team, that would be difficult to take. I’ve worked hard to get to these moments so I can play well.

“And I expect to win”

For Joe Burrow: “It Is Us!”

Where schools like Nebraska and a coaches like Urban Meyer never quite saw him for who he really could be, his Athens High School classmates had him pegged perfectly all along.

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