CINCINNATI — Joe Burrow didn’t waste any time getting to the podium after the Bengals’ 27-24 loss to the Ravens. Just as reporters started to enter the Bengals locker room, Burrow instead led them to the team’s press conference area. Once there, Burrow informed them and everyone else that he aggravated his calf during the Bengals’ second-to-last offensive play.
Burrow specifically said that he tweaked the injured calf that forced him to miss a month of training camp. While it doesn’t appear that the injury will sideline him, Burrow didn’t offer any specifics regarding the injury and how it will impact him going forward.
“We’re going to have to wait and see,” Burrow said of his calf. “I’m not sure how it’s going to feel the next couple of days. It’s pretty sore right now. No telling how it’s going to feel. I think we’re going to take it day by day.”
On Monday, Bengals coach Zac Taylor said that Burrow is “still sore today” and was non-committal regarding whether or not Burrow will be able to play next Monday night. He indicated that they will wait to talk to the doctors before making a decision.
Despite the injury and the Bengals’ 0-2 start, Burrow is confident that he and his teammates will get things turned around.
“We’ve done it before,” he said. “Obviously, you don’t want to start 0-2. It’s not what we were planning. We’re going to bounce back. That’s what we do. That’s all there is to it.”
Burrow added that he would have re-entered the game if the Bengals would have had one last chance with the ball late in the game. Fortunately for Burrow, he’ll have one extra day to rest his calf with the Bengals hosting the Rams next Monday night.
“It’s tough to tell, tough to look into the future and see that,” Burrow said when asked if he anticipates dealing with the injury all season. “I’m doing everything I can to get healthy and get that thing the way I need it to so I can go out and perform the way I need to to win. We’ll see.”
If Burrow is physically compromised, the responsibility will further be on Cincinnati’s offensive line to protect the team’s Pro Bowl quarterback. While Burrow was hit a few times, the Bengals line was largely solid on Sunday. The unit allowed one sack of Burrow one week after giving up two sacks in Cleveland.
The line has played well, but will have to play at an almost superman level if Burrow can’t move the way he is accustomed to. No one knows that better than Ted Karras, the team’s veteran center who blocked for Tom Brady when Brady won his last two rings with the Patriots.
“I don’t know the details on how [Burrow is] feeling,” Karras told CBS Sports after the game. “I know he’s battling something. I think it puts a lot of onus on the O-line. We have to be as perfect as we can. We don’t want him to have to move around too much in the pocket. I’ve experienced with that kind of system playing with Tom. … Until he gets to where he feels like he’s 100%, the O-line needs to be at the top of our game.
“I think we played a pretty solid game against a good front, but ultimately came up short in an AFC North bloodbath kind of games.”
The Bengals, who lost both their games this season against divisional foes, also started 0-2 last year but rebounded with a return trip to the AFC title game. Cincinnati would make history if they merely make the playoffs this season, as no team since 1990 has reached the playoffs in consecutive years after consecutive 0-2 starts.
“When your quarterback misses camp, it’s tough to start fast,” said Burrow, who also missed a significant portion of camp in 2022. “It’s not an ideal situation.”
Saying the Bengals’ offense started slow this season would be an understatement. The unit scored just three points last Sunday in Cleveland and gained a futile 65 yards in the first half on Sunday. Cincinnati’s first touchdown of the 2023 season was rookie Charlie Jones’ 81-yard punt return that kept the Bengals in the game at intermission.
Down 13-10, the Bengals offense showed signs of life to start the second half. The unit drove into the red zone (on the strength of Burrow’s well-designed 32-yard swing pass to Joe Mixon) and threatened to take the lead before Ravens safety Geno Stone stepped in front of Burrow’s pass intended for Tee Higgins in front of the end zone. The pick set up Lamar Jackson’s first of two second-half touchdown passes as Baltimore took a 10-point lead.
“Really good play by him,” Burrow said of Stone’s pick. “Good disguise. But I’ve got to see that.”
Burrow and Co. responded on their next drive, with Burrow hitting Higgins for the offense’s first touchdown of the season. But the Ravens countered with a 12-play scoring drive that was punctuated by Nelson Agholor’s nifty over-the-shoulder touchdown catch.
The two teams then exchanged punts before Burrow hit Higgins for another score to trim the deficit to three points with 3:28 left. The Bengals never got the ball back, however, as Jackson and Gus Edwards ran for game-clinching first downs.
“We moved the ball well the whole game,” said Burrow, who finished with 221 yards on 27 of 41 passing. “First half, we had three possessions. We had a holding call that took us back. … We had a third down and didn’t convert and we scored points on the other one.
“Second half, looking back, we moved it really well. Came down to the turnover in the red zone. When you’re playing that team, you can’t have that mistake because they’re going to run it well, they’re going to keep it away from you, they’re going to score points. Lamar’s a great player; he’s going to make plays. So you’ve got take advantage of all your red zone opportunities. That was my mistake.”
Given their success in the second half, it’s safe to say that Cincinnati’s offense has started to find its way. But the unit won’t truly be back until Ja’Marr Chase gets more involved. He had just five catches for 31 yards on Sunday after a stat line of five grabs for 39 yards in Cleveland.
“We need to get him involved,” Burrow said of the two-time Pro Bowler and former LSU teammate. “He’s our best player on offense, so we need to find a way to get him off.”
Along with Chase, the Bengals offense still needs to find their No. 2 running back behind Mixon, who ran for 56 and 59 yards on a combined 26 carries in Cincinnati’s first two games. Chase Brown, a rookie who filled in Sunday for injured backup Chris Evans, had just one carry for two yards in his regular-season debut.
The Bengals defense has also failed to come up with timely stops. It allowed a 52-yard bomb from Jackson to rookie Zay Flowers one play after Stone’s pick that led to Jackson’s touchdown pass to Mark Andrews. It then failed to get the ball back to its offense in the game’s final minutes.
Part of the defensives issues is a rebuilt secondary that includes new starters in safeties Nick Scott (who left Sunday’s game early after entering the concussion protocol) and 2022 first-round pick Daxton Hill.
“Us as a defense, we have to make those plays,” Hill told CBS Sports afterward. “Some of those plays we want back, but we’ll correct those for next week.”
Similarly to last year, there was no feeling of panic inside the Bengals locker room. Sure, there was some frustration, but that’s to be expected when a team with Super Bowl aspirations starts 0-2. The Bengals also know that they have a talented roster. And while they won’t say it, they’re likely aware that the upcoming schedule lightens up with games against the Rams, Titans and Cardinals, three teams that went a combined 17-35 last year.
The Bengals also have the assurance of having one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks (albeit not a completely healthy one) who has won more playoff games than any other quarterback since the start of the 2021 season.
“I’m still confident,” Burrow said. “I feel really confident in all the guys we have in that room. Like I said, we’re going to have to see how that calf feels in the next couple of days. I don’t know how it’s gonna feel. We’ll see.”
With that, Burrow got up and left the podium, which led to many reporters venturing back to the home team’s locker room. While some of the Bengals players had left, Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was still sitting at his locker. Brown, who chose to sign with the Bengals this offseason after winning it all with the Chiefs last year, feels that the Bengals — and specifically the offense — can still accomplish what they set out to achieve.
“Ultimately, I think this offensive group is really special,” Brown told CBS Sports. “I think we’ve got all the potential in the world and go out and be whatever we want to be from each position group. We’ve got some special talent.
“We’ll get the ball rolling. We’ll get more comfortable and we’ll be able to control the flow of the game and the momentum going forward.”
All of that sounds good, but the main question remains Burrow and the health of his calf. The Bengals will go only as far as their franchise quarterback can lead them.