Burrow ready for big games as Bengals chase playoff berth

Credit: Gail Burton

Credit: Gail Burton

CINCINNATI -- Even as a young quarterback, Joe Burrow knows he ultimately will be judged by how well he plays in big games. In his second season with the Cincinnati Bengals, the 2020 No. 1 overall draft pick finds himself preparing for the biggest game to date in his young career.

The Bengals (8-6) play host to the Baltimore Ravens (8-6) on Sunday in a game that will determine first place in the AFC North. It’s also a chance for Cincinnati to climb closer to its first playoff trip since 2015.

“At the end of the day, quarterbacks, their play is determined on how they play in the big games, and the big games happen in December and in the playoffs,” Burrow said.

Burrow said he first judges himself on whether the team wins or loses and secondly on how his coaches and teammates think he played.

Last week’s 15-10 victory at Denver wasn’t the prettiest, as Burrow threw for only 157 yards, but he didn’t throw an interception for a second straight week and he connected with Tyler Boyd on a 56-yard touchdown late in the third quarter for the final points of the game. He also had 25 yards rushing on five carries, including three third-down conversions on scrambles.

Burrow has 3,640 yards passing and 26 touchdowns, doubling his scoring from last year when he played just 10 games before suffering a season-ending ACL and MCL tear.

“I’m comfortable back there,” Burrow said of his recent production. “I think I’m finally getting back to where I was pre-injury as far as my movement in the pocket and in being able to extend the play. I’ve been able to do that a couple times these last few games that I’ve felt really comfortable in, and I’m not even really thinking about it anymore, which is exciting for me, because I wasn’t really making those plays at the beginning of the year. So I’m finally getting back to myself, and I think that’s just gonna open up even more for us.”

Burrow had arguably his best game against Baltimore in Week 7 on the road when he led the Bengals to a 41-17 win while throwing for 416 yards and three touchdowns. That won’t be easy to repeat against a traditionally strong Ravens defense, but their secondary has been depleted by injury and Baltimore ranks second to last in passing defense, allowing 264 yards per game.

The Ravens currently have cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters on injured reserve, and Chris Westry has been limited by a knee injury.

“They’ve played a little more zone the last couple of games but we know Baltimore,” Burrow said. “We know that at heart they’re a pressure team that likes to play man to man coverage so I think that’s what we’re expecting going in and then we’ll adjust on the fly to whatever we see.”

Baltimore has always been a strong blitzing team, which can create havoc on opposing quarterbacks, but Burrow said he is better equipped to handle that now deep into his second season.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor notes he’s always thought Burrow was strong at manipulating the pocket, but Burrow said he is more confident in and out of the pocket because he is faster at processing information and reading the situation better.

“I’m light years from last year,” Burrow said. “Obviously, last year you see a lot of new things that you haven’t really seen before. You also, as a rookie, teams throw more at you to see if you can handle it. This year, a lot of those blitz looks and coverage looks, we proved early in the year that we can handle it and we’re going to get the ball out quickly and we’re going to make teams pay. And we haven’t seen as many of those looks later in the season. But, with Baltimore, you’ve always got to be ready for that.”

As defenses have adjusted to the Bengals’ offense, Cincinnati has seen its share of ups and downs.

The Bengals are 3-4 since that win in Baltimore in Week 7, but Burrow still thinks they are the same team they were early in the season, perhaps even better because of a greater understanding of the details. Now is the time to prove that.

Burrow was caught on NFL Films on the sideline at Baltimore during their first matchup saying if the Bengals can win the AFC North, they could win the whole thing. He still believes that to be true.

“I think it was around then when we realized how good we could be,” Burrow said. “Obviously, we’ve had some ups and downs throughout the year, and that’s going to happen in the NFL. When we play Baltimore, everyone knows what Baltimore can do to teams. And the way we went out and beat them last time I think we all realized what we could be. So that was exciting for us to get that win. You put that behind us and now we’re here with everything on the line in this game.”


Ravens at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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