Still winless, but Bengals rookie Joe Burrow showing progress

by 24USATVSept. 27, 2020, 11 p.m. 25
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Cincinnati Bengals rookie Joe Burrow showed he is the franchise quarterback the team hoped for when it drafted him with the first overall pick in April.

Even in a 23-23 tie with the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Burrow looked his sharpest so far this season. The LSU product was able to overcome a slow start to finish with a strong line and an outing that should have produced his first career win.

"We got in a pretty good rhythm there in the third quarter," said Burrow, who was 31-of-44 passing for 312 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. "If we punched that one red-zone drive in where we ended up settling for a field goal, then we win this game."

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Burrow weathered some big hits to deliver in the second half. After the halftime break, Burrow completed 19 of his 26 attempts for 218 yards.

For the second time this season, Burrow played well enough to give the Bengals a win. Yet again, Cincinnati fell short. While the results haven't been there, Burrow's numbers in his first three starts are an encouraging sign in a season where Burrow's long-term development is the only thing that matters.

"We didn’t win," Burrow said. "That’s all it is to me. (If) you don’t win, you lose. That’s my mindset right now."

QB breakdown: Burrow shrugged off some early hits and pressures to produce that big second half. But his Sunday turnaround started toward the end of the first half. Starting with a drive that ended in a touchdown, Burrow had 13 straight completions in the middle of the game that resulted in 124 yards and two touchdowns, both of them going to rookie receiver Tee Higgins. Burrow was sharp in his timing and his decision-making, especially considering his limited NFL experience in a pandemic-plagued 2020.

Pivotal play: Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz struggled for the bulk of the game. But in overtime he produced the play that set up the potential game-winning score. Wentz hit tight end Zach Ertz for a 30-yard completion after Ertz got behind Bengals cornerback Darius Phillips. Wentz was ineffective for most of the day, but when it mattered, he was able to make the plays he needed. Wentz also scrambled for a 7-yard touchdown that forced overtime.

Troubling trend: The Bengals' offensive line gave up too many sacks. The Eagles planted Burrow into the turf eight times on Sunday, including three times in overtime. Two came on the Bengals' last legitimate chance to pick up their first road victory since Week 4 of the 2018 season. Those sacks didn't just stop the Bengals. It gave Philadelphia the field position it needed to push for a victory.

Hole in the game plan: Wentz found a lot of running room against the Bengals, who seemingly couldn't contain the Philadelphia quarterback when necessary. Wentz had nine carries for 65 yards and a score. Most of those yards were on scrambles, including the touchdown that tied the game late in the fourth quarter. Wentz took advantage of the space in the middle of the field often and picked up big gains throughout the day.

Silver lining: Higgins got the start over John Ross III and showed why that might not be changing anytime soon. Higgins caught five of his nine targets for 40 yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals' second-round pick is starting to find his rhythm with Burrow, which is a good sign for the rest of this year and beyond.

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