Burrow’s rebound jumpstarted Bengals

This time last year, Joe Burrow was just beginning the second phase of his rehab following major knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his left leg. The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback wasn’t running or throwing yet, but he declared then that he would be back for the start of this season.

Burrow reached that goal and led the Bengals to a win in their opener, setting the tone for a remarkable comeback season.

After establishing franchise passing yards and touchdowns records, leading the team to its first AFC North title since 2015 and its first playoff wins since 1991, Burrow now has the Bengals one game away from a Super Bowl.

ExploreBengals' 'special group' excited for opportunity to reach Super Bowl

Cincinnati plays Kansas City on Sunday in the AFC Championship at Arrowhead Stadium.

“He really has overcome that,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Wednesday. “That’s been significant. I’m sure there was a lot of uncertainty on his end as well on how he was gonna respond. He wanted to respond the right way, but he’d never been through something like that before. So, I think it has been impressive the way he’s played this last stretch of this season, particularly now that he’s felt fully healthy. And we never take him for granted, but there’s a lot of really impressive things he does that maybe aren’t as impressive to us anymore because we’re just used to it and it’s kind of his standard, his greatness. But again, we need to step back and always take a moment to appreciate what we’ve got there at that quarterback position.”

Burrow has achieved everything this season while being the most sacked quarterback in the league, dislocating the pinky finger on his throwing hand and tweaking his right knee at one point. On Saturday in the AFC Divisional Playoff at Tennessee, he was sacked nine times. No other quarterback had taken that many sacks and still won a playoff game since the league started tracking sacks in 1982.

Now the 2020 No. 1 draft pick is preparing for a showdown with Patrick Mahomes and one of the most explosive offenses in the league.

Burrow credits his personal trainer, Dak Notestine, and the Bengals’ athletic training and physical therapy staff, for preparing his body for a long season. Those who have worked with him say it goes back to the kind of player Burrow is.

“For everyone on the outside, it is remarkable,” said Notestine, Director of Performance at Black Sheep Performance in Blue Ash. “But also, I think when you look a little deeper, you see the confidence and the passion that he has, and I mean, he is a true professional in every sense of the word. He takes everything extremely serious. He put me to work. He’s so detail-oriented and invested in the process and wants to know how this is gonna play out, what the plan is for every part along the way, so there’s no doubt that he was going to come back better than ever. He’s just dedicated to his craft and is a true professional in every sense of the word.

“So if you know him on that level and understand that, and I think you see it on game days when he’s talking to himself and everything, that’s not hype. That’s really how he is and that’s him being the leader and confident athlete that he is. He fully expects to go out there and do everything that people expect him to do and more.”

ExploreBengals' defense gets ready for rematch

Notestine has known Burrow since his dad, former Ohio University defensive coordinator Jim Burrow, recruited Notestine to play football for the Bobcats in 2006.

After Notestine finished his playing career in 2009-10, he began working as a strength and conditioning coach at Ohio and often worked with the coaches’ kids. That’s when he started training Burrow as a middle schooler, on up through high school and when he would return to Athens on college breaks – and then again last January when Notestine moved to Cincinnati.

Burrow had undergone surgery in December 2020 in Los Angeles, and when he returned to Cincinnati, he connected with Notestine. The Bengals’ athletic training and physical therapy staff worked with Notestine to create a coordinated plan for Burrow, and the two started with general physical preparation, building up Burrow’s upper body and working on the non-injured leg until he was ready to strengthen the other leg to that same level. They continued working together until OTAs and for a few sessions afterward.

Though his recovery was on the early end of the projected timeline for return, Burrow felt good enough to play. As the season went on, he started feeling more comfortable, and now he’s playing the best football of his career, he said.

ExploreRaising a Bengals fan in an era of hope

“I wouldn’t say that I had less confidence on it earlier but I would say that I wasn’t able to do certain things that I had been able to do in the past,” Burrow said. “Like make people miss in the pocket and extend plays, I really couldn’t do that until after the bye week is when I started to finally feel like myself, and I think that’s when I started to play my best football.”

Notestine wasn’t surprised to see their work pay off this season, for Burrow and the Bengals.

“He fully believes that he is going to reach all the goals that he has set forth,” Notestine said. “It’s just a matter of time, and the fact that it’s come so quickly you can’t help but just kind of sit back and be a little bit in shock, but if I were a betting man I’m always going with Joe. I mean just, like I said, the passion and professionalism he brings every day to everything he does, I think it’s bleeding into the Bengals organization and I think he just makes everybody better around him.”

About the Author