The past few seasons have brought to the NFL an undying optimism that even without a classic, archetypal franchise quarterback, some kind of player-friendly schematic advancement can mask enough of a quarterback’s shortcomings to keep a team running on. a playoff level.
He has also brought with him Joe Burrow, who, after Saturday’s 26-19 wild card win over the Raiders, which gave the Bengals their first playoff win since 1991, proves there’s no greater boost for a dying franchise than the arrival of an archetypal franchise quarterback.
We’re in a strange time at the position, where a broader range of possibilities has given coaches a broader spectrum of options from which they can win games. A season of Taylor Heinicke, for example, is no longer a far-fetched idea. A season of maybe we’ll see what Case Keenum has doesn’t immediately rule a club out of playoff consideration. Tyrod Taylor could take you to the playoffs. Under the right circumstances, Cam Newton, Taysom Hill and Jacoby Brissett could carry you to the playoffs. Jimmy Garoppolo, Jared Goff and Nick Foles have played in recent super bowls.
Burrow, like Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen before him, is obviously different, as all three have ushered in the kind of full and complete change that alters the trajectory of a franchise. We are not rocking the academic world by making this point. But it is worth noting how marked the difference is between the two situations. A year ago, the Bengals looked like a team holding a great player hostage. Now, they are among the most efficient and well-rounded offenses in football, as likely to make the Super Bowl as the Rams, a team that can compete in free agency at a time when the movement of veteran players begins to look like the star groups. of the NBA
While remaking the Bengals from an image perspective will always be a tall order, owner Mike Brown has historically earned a reputation for being reluctant to spend money or provide adequate resources, which is hard to erase from the minds of players. potential free agents, their contract advisers and all other NFL stakeholders: Burrow entered the NFL with the proper seriousness and has spent the better part of two years backing it.
His recovery from a knee injury and willingness to play behind an offensive line again left him the most abused quarterback in football this year (Burrow was sacked a league-high 51 times this year ) was nothing short of a triumph. His willingness not to allow his agent to secretly phone the Saints and plead with them to get him out of Ohio cemented him as an odd soul or perhaps a hidden masochist.
On his first touchdown pass Saturday, Burrow hit tight end CJ Uzomah on a seven-yard pass that, by recent standards of Burrow’s evolving legend, would not have registered on a season highlight reel. The incredible thing about the launch was that Uzomah was not open by anyone’s measure. There was a player down in the zone defending an inside shot. There was a player in a strong position to guard against an outside shot if Burrow had tried to stretch Uzomah’s frame and feed him like a post player. Yet there was this instant fearlessness
Burrow uncorked a pass that seemed to rise and fall furiously like a plumb line due to sheer speed. By the time Uzomah completed the classic Bengals tribute to Ickey Woods, passing, timing, ball speed and decision-making were an afterthought.
The same could be said for Burrow’s lateral game with Ja’Marr Chase all night, attacking the thin, weak spots in a pass-focused Raiders defense that prioritizes forcing the quarterback into consistently difficult throws.
In Cincinnati, it should never be an afterthought. Ever. This is a team that tried, for so many years, to survive at quarterback. The Bengals tried good enough. Before that, they squandered elite talent, seeing it wither at the hands of the same forces that could easily have swept Burrow away as well, destined for a better career elsewhere.
As if that wasn’t obvious enough by now, the Bengals can’t let this opportunity go to waste. They can’t let this quarterback go unnoticed. Franchises can spend half a century between quarterbacks who can master a game as expertly as Burrow does. They can’t let go of something so good.
For now, the team has guaranteed its fans at least one more week to thank them for their gifts.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.