Joe Burrow is already good enough to almost win a Super Bowl for the Bengals | Opinion
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – By some measures, Joe Burrow played well enough to win in his first Super Bowl.
The young Cincinnati Bengals quarterback sure demonstrated a knack for getting up off the mat. He was sacked seven times, which matched a Super Bowl record. That’s hard-knocks stuff.
So, even though the Bengals converted just 3 of 14 third downs and Burrow grumbled afterward about needing to play better, there’s no way you can pin this setback, a 23-20 nail-biter against the Los Angeles Rams, on the kid.
It’s just tough to win when you can feel the hot breath and stiff hits from guys like Aaron Donald, Von Miller and A’Shawn Robinson all game long. That’s no way to lead the Bengals to what might have been the first triumph in the franchise’s history, but Burrow spent himself trying.
On his final snap, a fourth-and-1 near midfield with a half-minute on the clock and the prospects alive for a game-tying field goal that might have forced overtime, he was nearly sacked an eighth time. But somehow, Burrow managed to fling the ball forward despite a sweaty bear hug from Donald for a feeble incompletion that set off the Rams' celebration.
“You try to do anything you can to complete the ball,” Burrow explained.
There wasn’t much else to say about that last play, when Donald seized the moment to prove why he’s the NFL’s best defensive player. It proved to be an apt snapshot of how it all went down.
If not that, the defining picture was another smash-up earlier in the fourth quarter. As he was sacked on a third down by Miller, Burrow’s right knee twisted while he was on his way to the turf. He grabbed the knee – the other one, not the knee that was torn to prematurely end his rookie year – and writhed in pain.
Fortunately, Burrow, 25, survived to come back for more of a half-empty Super Bowl initiation.
“I’m disappointed in my performance overall,” said Burrow, who completed 22 of 33 passes for 263 yards. “I thought I could have played better, give us a better chance to win. But you live and you learn.”
It would have helped if lightning struck twice for Burrow. When the Bengals topped the top-seeded Tennessee Titans in the AFC divisional round, Burrow was sacked nine times and lived up to his “Joe Cool” moniker by barely blinking while under siege.
Now he withstands seven sacks.
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It doesn’t take a Phi Beta Kappa to identify the major priority for the Bengals during the coming offseason: Fortify the protection for Burrow. Invest, rebuild and upgrade the offensive line. Or else.
Burrow wouldn’t point any fingers. But it’s no secret.
“I was proud of the way they fought,” he said of his O-line. “We all have to get better individually – myself included.”
Burrow won the college national championship in his final game at LSU, capping a perfect season a few weeks after claiming the Heisman Trophy. He sparked Cincinnati, which was 4-11-1 in 2020, to the franchise’s first Super Bowl berth in 33 years.
So, hey, anything was possible.
Or so it seemed.
Burrow knows it’s not automatic that the Bengals will get back to the Super Bowl next year, but he also knows that it’s possible – and hopes they’ll use the loss as determined fuel.
“You like to say we are going to come back every year, but that’s not a reality,” he said. “We are going to work really hard to get back to this moment and finish on top like we wanted to this year. But we came up just short.”
Although Matthew Stafford led the Rams on a 15-play march late in the game that was ultimately the game-winning drive, he wasn’t the best quarterback on the field.
That’s no knock on Stafford. He came up big in the clutch, with much help from MVP Cooper Kupp.
But Stafford also threw two interceptions and became a lot shakier after Odell Beckham, Jr. was lost for the game with a knee injury after going down in the second quarter.
Burrow wasn’t flawless, but he didn’t throw a pick, didn’t put his team in bad situations with carelessness. Even without monster numbers, he was efficient (100.9 passer rating) and resourceful. Sometimes he scrambled for first downs, other times he moved his feet to escape danger.
It’s just that he didn’t escape nearly enough.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.