Joe Burrow is good enough, but calf concerns persist in win over Rams

Joe Burrow and the Bengals earned their first win of the season. (Dylan Boyle/Getty Images) (Dylan Boyle via Getty Images)

Joe Burrow was far from his best Monday night.

But it was good enough for the Bengals to roll the dice on starting their ailing quarterback in the Pro Bowl. While Cincinnati’s defense stifled Matthew Stafford and the Rams, Burrow overcame a troubling first half to lead the Bengals’ offense in a 19-16 victory.

The night got off to an inauspicious start for Bengal. For the third straight game, Cincinnati failed to score an equalizer in the first period as its offense sagged and clawed its way to a 6-6 tie at halftime. But Burrow and the Bengals’ offense showed signs of life in the second half while producing enough points for a much-needed win.

Burrow finished the night completing 26 of 49 passes for 259 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. It wasn’t a great effort, and it wasn’t enough to allay concerns about the calf strain that has hampered him since the start of the season.

But it was enough to avoid an 0-3 start.

“We’re getting there,” Burrow told ESPN after the game about his recovery. “Every week will be better as long as there are no more setbacks. … We got through it today.”

Perhaps most encouraging was Burrow’s connection with Ja’Marr Chase, who recorded 12 catches for 141 yards. The All-Pro receiver totaled just 70 yards in Cincinnati’s first two games.

The Bengals jumped at the opportunity to start Burrow

The Bengals faced a crucial decision on whether to play Burrow with their season in jeopardy just three weeks away. The other option was to rest Burrow and his ailing calf and start Jake Browning, a practice squad veteran whose resume includes one pass attempt in the NFL.

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With the Ravens, Steelers and Browns off to a 2-1 start, the 0-2 Bengals thought Burrow gave them their best chance at a win. They chose to start him, a decision that wasn’t made 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-yard attempt was just behind his 7.4-yard average in 2022 and the league-best 8.9-yard average the year before in Cincinnati’s run to the Super Bowl. The explosion is gone.

She remained missing in the first half Monday night as each of Burrow’s 13 passes in the first quarter went off Traveled less than 10 yards Up in the air. Burrow averaged 4.6 yards per attempt while Cincinnati’s offense produced four punts and three field goal attempts, two of which were successful.

The burrow shows signs of life in the second half

But Burrow led an efficient 10-play, 75-yard drive to start the second half that ended with a 14-yard touchdown run from Joe Mixon. Then Cincinnati’s second possession of the half gave a glimpse of the familiar success that had been glaringly absent during the start of the Bengals’ season.

On first-and-10 from the 25-yard line, Burrow faked a pitch to running back Chase Brown and then rolled to his right. He looked down the field and delivered a hit on the run to Chase, who corralled the ball down the right sideline for a 43-yard gain.

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This play set up a 48-yard field goal by Evan McPherson to extend the Bengals’ lead to 16-7. But that was an anomaly on a night that saw the Bengals reach the red zone just once while tallying 309 yards from scrimmage.

The Bengals’ defense deserves the lion’s share of the credit for Monday’s win. She continued to pressure Stafford all night, producing six sacks and two interceptions. Second-year safety Dax Hill was a force, recording eight tackles, including two for loss, one quarterback hit and that Stafford sack that set up a deep third-and-long in Los Angeles territory.

Logan Wilson secured interceptions for Cincinnati.

Thanks in large part to that defense, Cincinnati was able to avoid the most pressing concern Monday night by stopping the bleeding and getting the win. But Burrow’s health remains an ongoing issue and is unlikely to subside anytime soon.

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