Joe Burrow was far from his best Monday night.
But he was good enough for a Cincinnati Bengals team that rolled the dice on starting its ailing Pro Bowl quarterback. While Cincinnati’s defense suffocated Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams, Burrow overcame an anxious first half to lead the Bengals’ offense to a 19-16 victory.
The night started as a threat for Bengal. For the third straight game, Cincinnati failed to score a touchdown in the first half as its offense tied the game at 6-6. But Burrow and the Bengals’ offense showed signs of life in the second half, putting up enough points to earn a much-needed win.
Burrow finished the night completing 26 of 49 passes for 259 yards with touchdowns and one interception. It wasn’t a vintage effort, and it wasn’t enough to quell concerns about the calf strain that has dogged him since the start of the season.
But enough to avoid an 0-3 start.
“We’re getting there,” Burrow told ESPN postgame about his recovery. “Every week is going to get better until we don’t have any more setbacks. … We got through that today.
Perhaps most encouraging was Burrow’s connection to Ja’Mar Chase, who had 12 catches for 141 yards. The All-Pro receiver had just 70 yards in Cincinnati’s first two games.
The Bengals took a chance on starting Burrow
The Bengals faced a crucial decision in the Burrow game with their season at stake in three weeks. The other option is to rest Burrow and his ailing calf and start practice-squad veteran Jake Browning, whose resume includes an NFL pass attempt.
The AFC rival Ravens, Steelers and Browns are all off to a 2-1 start, while the 0-2 Bengals believe Burrow has the best chance to pick up a win. They decided to start him, which wasn’t picked up until game day.
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Burrow was a shell of his Pro Bowl self in an 0-2 start, completing 41 of 72 (56.9%) passes for 304 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His 4.2 yards per attempt was better than his 7.4-yard average in 2022 and a league-best 8.9 yards a year ago during Cincinnati’s Super Bowl run. The explosion is gone.
Each of Burrow’s 13 first-quarter misses came in the first half Monday night. Traveled less than 10 yards in the air Burrow averaged 4.6 yards per attempt, while Cincinnati’s offense produced four turnovers and three field goal attempts, two of which were successful.
Burrow showing signs of life in the second half
But Burrow opened the second half with an efficient, 10-play 75-yard drive that ended with a 14-yard Joe Mixon touchdown run. And then Cincinnati’s second half catch, the Bengals created a semblance of familiar downfield success that had been so absent earlier in the season.
On first-and-10 from the 25-yard line, Burrow faked a pitch and Chase Brown ran back. He looked downfield and started running to Chase, who connected the ball down the right sideline for a 43-yard gain.
That play set up a 48-yard Evan McPherson field goal to extend the Bengals’ lead to 16–7. But it was an anomaly on a night when the Bengals reached the red zone once, gaining 309 yards.
Bangladesh’s defense deserved the lion’s share of Monday’s win. It pressured Stafford all night, producing six sacks and two interceptions. Sophomore safety Dax Hill was a force, tallying two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and eight tackles, including this sack of Stafford that set up a third-and-long deep in LA territory.
Logan Wilson secured both of Cincinnati’s interceptions.
Thanks in large part to that defense, Cincinnati avoided the most immediate concern Monday night by stopping the bleeding and picking up a win. But Burrow’s health is an ongoing issue that isn’t likely to abate anytime soon.