Burrow, Tagovailoa: Stars cross paths again

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor gets a little agitated when people ask why he even wanted to win his first matchup with the Dolphins in late 2019, knowing the No. 1 draft position was on the line and a victory might have cost him the chance to select Joe Burrow.

It’s a question that he likely will have to answer any time the Bengals play the Dolphins, and especially this week as Burrow for the first time in his NFL career is set to go head-to-head with Tua Tagovailoa, another first-round quarterback from his draft class.

Tagovailoa, who went to the Dolphins at No. 5 in 2020, is working through a back injury from Sunday’s win against the Bills, but told reporters in Miami he is trying to do everything he can to play Thursday.

The Bengals lost that wild meeting in Miami, 38-35, in the penultimate game of Taylor’s first season, but they had rallied from a 23-point deficit to force overtime on a two-point conversion run that followed a 25-yard pass from Andy Dalton to Tyler Eifert on the final play of regulation. Four months later, Cincinnati drafted Burrow with the top overall pick and the rest is history.

“There are no guarantees in this profession you’re going to be here next year,” Taylor said. “To say why did you do everything to win a game is frustrating, to be quite honest with you. You don’t know what it’s like being in these offices when you’re not winning, so you do everything you possibly can to get it. … I just think it’s disrespectful to the game to not do everything you can to win. I get it, the fans probably wanted us to lose so we get the pick. I understand that. But the coaching side of it, not for one second.”

Burrow said Tuesday he remembers watching that game, knowing it could determine which team he was going to.

It turns out the Bengals still would have gotten the No. 1 pick with a 3-13 record, too, assuming the results would have stayed the same in the final week. Had they dropped to No. 2 and Burrow not been available, it would have come down to a decision between Justin Herbert and Tagovailoa.

“We didn’t need to rush to a decision, we had til April whatever it was, really liked watching Tua,” Taylor said when asked about his impressions of Tagovailoa going into the 2020 draft. “He was a winner. Played with a lot of confidence. Just thought he’d do a good job operating an offense in the NFL. It was clear he should be in the top of the draft, that was all very clear. For us, we just saw something in Joe we believed in. He needed to be the No. 1 pick. He was the right fit for us. Never waivered from that from the day we decided until now. That was the direction we went. Certainly, saw there were other quarterbacks who could be really successful for other teams. Just not for us.”

Burrow helped lead Cincinnati to its first playoff win since the 1990 season and the franchise’s third Super Bowl appearance in just his second season. He and the Bengals’ offense struggled the first two games this season, but are coming off a much better showing Sunday in a 27-12 win over the Jets.

Tagovailoa is off to an especially impressive start to his third year, leading one of the league’s top offenses with 925 yards passing (second behind Josh Allen) and helping Miami to a 3-0 record. The matchup of two offenses with a lot of firepower has drawn a lot of hype, but Burrow said he hasn’t thought about what that will look like on the field Thursday.

“You don’t really think about that on the offensive end until you get into the game,” Burrow said. “And then maybe the game changes, maybe they’re rolling on offense and you’ve got to change the way that you think about your game plan. It might change the way we call plays and the way I execute them, but going into the game you’re not really thinking about it.”

The first matchup between Burrow and Tagovailoa was supposed to happen in 2020, but Burrow was out with a torn ACL. Tagovailoa led the Dolphins to a 19-7 win, throwing for 296 yards and one touchdown.

Burrow last faced the former Alabama star in Week 8 of the 2019 college season when Burrow and LSU spoiled the Crimson Tide’s perfect record, handing them a 40-21 loss at home. That might have been the game when Burrow established himself as the No. 1 pick, though a lot of the talk had been about Tagovailoa to that point.

“It kind of told me that I could do what I thought I could do going into the season,” Burrow said. “Tua was the guy for two years and going in there and beating him, kind of gave me validation about what I felt about myself.”

Burrow doesn’t need that kind of validation now, but a win would be big for the Bengals as they try to get back to .500.

THURSDAY’S GAME

Dolphins at Bengals, 8:15 p.m., Amazon Prime, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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