Joe Burrow’s left leg bent awkwardly, contorted under the mass of many large men. The knee finally gave way, and with it, the immediate hope for a long-tortured fanbase.
Thankfully, with modern medical practices, Burrow stands a chance to make a full recovery. Hopefully he’s back for the start of next season and even without a normal offseason, continues his ascension. It’s all possible.
For the Bengals, and those familiar with their history, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a wunderkind quarterback in stripes befallen.
In 2005, Carson Palmer was in his third season — second starting — and earned his first Pro Bowl berth with 32 touchdown tosses. The Bengals won the AFC North with a talented roster. Then, in the AFC Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Palmer was hit low by Kimo Von Oelhoffen in his left leg. Torn ACL. Palmer bounced back, reaching the Pro Bowl in ’06, but never reached the same heights in the Queen City.
In 1969, Greg Cook was under center for the second-year franchise. The first-round pick had the appearance of a potential superstar. He tore his rotator cuff, missed the following three seasons and retired a shell of himself in 1973.
How great was Cook? The great Bill Walsh — offensive coordinator with the Bengals and a three-time Super Bowl-winner as head coach with the San Francisco 49ers — called him Steve Young, but bigger.
Now, for the Bengals, the next six months are critical for both the short and long term.
Every move in free agency and the draft needs to be choreographed around keeping Burrow upright for the next 15 years. The Bengals spent money in free agency last March for the first time in their history. Ownership and the front office must double down and spend once more, specifically in finding stalwarts on the offensive line.
In the draft, the Bengals should again target the big bodies. At 2-7-1, Cincinnati probably finishes with two or three wins. The Bengals will have a top-five pick, maybe top-three come April. The ammunition will be there to make a huge move.
If Oregon’s Penei Sewell — who some believe is the best tackle to come out in a decade — is available when it picks, Cincinnati shouldn’t be on the clock for more than three seconds.
The defense certainly needs attention, and a tight end would be a wonderful addition. Yet none of it matters if Burrow isn’t healthy.
For decades, the Bengals have been a hard-luck franchise ranging from a litany of playoff defeats and the aforementioned Palmer injury to dwindling fan support at Paul Brown Stadium among those tired of the same script.
Burrow gave Cincinnati a reason to get excited, and he proved worth the hype in his first 10 games before being crumpled in Washington.
The months ahead are about rehab for him and a mission for the team.
There’s every reason to believe Burrow will meet the challenge. His franchise can’t let him down.
Top 10 teams that lost the Super Bowl
1. 2008 New England Patriots (18-0; 12-point favorite in Super Bowl XLII)
2. 1968 Baltimore Colts (13-1; 18-point favorite in Super Bowl III)
3. 1969 Minnesota Vikings (12-2; 12-point favorite in Super Bowl IV)
4. 2001 St. Louis Rams (14-2; 14-point favorite in Super Bowl XXXVI)
5. 1983 Washington Redskins (14-2; 3-point favorite in Super Bowl XVIII)
6. 2009 Indianapolis Colts (14-2; 5-point favorite in Super Bowl XLIV)
7. 1997 Green Bay Packers (13-3; 11-point favorite in Super Bowl XXXII)
8. 1990 Buffalo Bills (13-3; 7-point favorite in Super Bowl XXV)
9. 1984 Miami Dolphins (14-2; 3.5-point underdog in Super Bowl XIX)
10. 1978 Dallas Cowboys (12-4; 3.5-point underdog in Super Bowl XII)
“It wasn’t perfect, but nothing is perfect about us except our record.”
– Steelers coach Mike Tomlin after his team’s 27-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars
The only team keeping the 1972 Dolphins from popping their champagne.
Pittsburgh hasn’t come especially close to losing this season, and while the victories aren’t always overwhelming, they keep coming. The Steelers have all but wrapped up the AFC North before Thanksgiving and now focus on earning home-field advantage in the playoffs, trying to fend off the Kansas City Chiefs.
If Miami’s Brian Flores isn’t Coach of the Year, Tomlin should make room on his mantle.
The Baltimore Ravens are the only team with multiple Super Bowl appearances and a perfect record (2-0).
However, the Buffalo Bills (0-4), Carolina Panthers (0-2), Atlanta Falcons (0-2), Vikings (0-4) and Bengals (0-2) have all played in at least two Super Bowls without success.
Info learned this week
1. Ravens face their season in the face on Thursday against Steelers
When Derrick Henry jaunted into the end zone for the game-winning score, he took Baltimore’s remaining margin of error with him.
Henry’s run gave the Tennessee Titans a 30-24 overtime win over the Ravens, putting Baltimore an impossible four games back in the AFC North. At 6-4 and with games against the Washington Football Team, New York Giants, Jaguars and Bengals remaining, the playoffs are still a strong likelihood.
Yet we’re going to find out plenty about their ceiling on Thanksgiving.
Losers of two straight and three-of-four, do the Ravens find their mettle and author Pittsburgh’s first loss along with a signature win? Or does Baltimore have a meltdown, perhaps illuminating cracks in both their roster and psyche?
If the Ravens are tough-minded, they go into Pittsburgh, play tough and either win or lose close. A blowout portends an ugly final month of the regular season, and maybe even a complete collapse.
2. Eagles won’t bench Carson Wentz, and it’s because of money
Carson Wentz is in need of a reboot. His confidence is shattered, his process is broken.
Wentz, who leads the NFL in turnovers this season, threw two ugly interceptions in a 22-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns. One came on a first-quarter swing pass which went for six the other way. The second was in the red zone. Both throws were lofted with no force behind either.
This is to say nothing of the zero-awareness safety he took, standing in the pocket for multiple seconds before going down.
In a normal scenario, Wentz would have been benched weeks ago. The Eagles are 3-6-1 and his play is warranting a seat on the pine.
However, nothing is normal about this situation. Philadelphia is winning its division and Wentz is signed for $134 million in cap hits over the next four years. If the Eagles moved on this offseason, they’d eat $59.2 million in dead money. No chance.
This is why Wentz won’t be sat down in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts. General manager Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson know sitting Wentz puts them a step closer to their firings. Right now, they can claim Wentz is being fixed. When he’s yanked, the white flag has gone up, and owner Jeffrey Lurie is wondering why $100+ million of his money was set on fire.
3. Dolphins’ Flores made a significant error in benching Tua
Brian Flores is a phenomenal coach who made an obvious, avoidable mistake on Sunday.
Trailing 20-10 with 10:44 remaining in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos, Flores lifted Tua Tagovailoa for veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. In less than 11 minutes, Fitzpatrick went 12-of-18 for 117 yards with an interception. In the preceding 49, Tagovailoa was 11-of-20 for 83 yards and a touchdown.
There’s no arguing Fitzpatrick’s effectiveness compared to Tagovailoa’s, but such a decision isn’t about one game. It’s about the message sent to a young kind trying to prove his worth both to his coaches, teammates and himself.
By benching Tagovailoa, Flores told the rookie he’s failing the team. It crushes a young man’s confidence when that should be the most important consideration, even above the playoffs. Miami’s long-term future depends on developing the Alabama product, nurturing him alone to extract a productive career.
Furthermore, everyone on Miami’s roster took note of Flores’ decision. If he doesn’t believe in Tagovailoa, why should they? It’s a referendum on a first-round pick four games into his career, and while we’re certainly going to see Tagovailoa soon — maybe even this Sunday — it creates doubt in the minds of everyone on the Dolphins’ sideline, including Tagovailoa’s.
4. Mahomes does it again, while Raiders earn respect in defeat
Patrick Mahomes is a demigod, and so the Chiefs are 9-1. Yet even in a 35-31 loss on Sunday night, the Las Vegas Raiders proved themselves a force in the AFC playoff picture.
Time and again, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr drove his team down the field against what normally is a stout Kansas City defense. Carr ended up with 275 yards (8.9 YPA) with three touchdowns, even providing his own would-be game-winning drive. Unfortunately for he and Raider Nation, Mahomes had the ball last.
Kansas City effectively wrapped up the AFC West, padding its cushion to three games. Las Vegas now finds itself in the wild card bracket, but with only two games remaining against teams with winning records (Miami and Indianapolis).
Most expected the Chiefs to get revenge for their Week 5 loss to the Raiders. Kansas City was coming in well-rested off a bye. Las Vegas had four starters out due to COVID and many defensive players couldn’t practice all week. Yet it took a Mahomes miracle.
The Chiefs are the best team in football, and the Raiders split with them, and almost swept. Enough said.
5. Rams-Buccaneers comes down to pressure
Want to know who’s going to win between the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night? Just count the pressures on each quarterback.
This season, no signal-caller has been worse in such situations than Tom Brady. The 43-year-old has barely completed 30 percent of his passes under duress. Watch the tape, and you see a quarterback unwilling to be hit, launching the ball up for grabs and/or out of bounds.
Meanwhile, Jared Goff has long been a different player with a punishment in the offing. Goff likes to play in rhythm, and when he’s forced to play off-schedule or sped up, inaccuracy and turnovers happen.
So who has the advantage here? Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay has an offense based off timing and quick throws. For Tampa Bay, it’s a scheme that requires protection for deep shots. Advantage Rams.
However, Tampa Bay ranks second in pressure rate, while Los Angeles is 16th. Advantage Bucs.
It’s a huge game for both teams. With the New Orleans Saints beating the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay must win or go two games back in the loss column, plus tiebreaker. For the Rams, a win means first place in the NFC West after the Arizona Cardinals fell to the Seattle Seahawks.
The New York Jets are laying seven points to the Dolphins at home. Pound Miami.
Until the Jets win a game, there’s no reason to bet them. Additionally, Flores’ defense brings massive pressure with Cover 0 blitzes. We’ll see a ton of it on Sunday, regardless of who New York has at quarterback. Expect turnovers, short fields and easy points for the better team after a bad loss.
The Colts didn’t impress yours true through their first eight games. They’ve won me over through the last two.
After beating up on one bad team after the next, Philip Rivers and Co. handled both the Titans and Packers. Tennessee was beaten with ease, while the Colts beat Green Bay despite nine holding penalties (not a typo), a pair of turnovers and a missed field goal. When teams beat quality opponents even with those mistakes, it’s noteworthy.
Indianapolis now draws the Titans against, hosting them this weekend with first place of the AFC South on the line. Another win for the Colts, and it’s tough to say they aren’t a contender for the biggest threat to the Steelers and Chiefs in the AFC.
Inside the league
DeAndre Baker is getting a second chance. Maybe his last.
The 2019 first-round pick of the Giants, Baker was hailed as a cornerstone piece for a young team. After a poor rookie season, the corner got in legal trouble, with charges of robbery with a firearm. In September, the Giants released him.
On Tuesday, Kansas City signed the beleaguered youngster to a one-year deal for its practice squad. The Chiefs have the luxury of taking a chance, with little financial investment and without the immediate need for Baker to contribute.
My understanding is Kansas City hopes Baker will learn the system before contributing in the final weeks of the season, giving him value in the playoffs. Come 2021, he can fight for a starting spot alongside standout rookie L’Jarius Sneed and veteran Charvarius Ward. Bashaud Breeland, the team’s current top corner, is slated for free agency this offseason.
For general manager Brett Veach, the move is typical of his history. During his tenure, Kansas City has traded for offensive lineman Cam Erving, and linebackers Darron Lee and Reggie Ragland. The common theme? Each was a first or second-round choice who didn’t pan out in their first city.
With Erving and Ragland, the payoff was there. Each contributed last year for the Chiefs’ first title in 50 years. Lee, who also won a ring, was a disappointment.
Whether Baker goes the route of the former two or the latter remains to be seen. Yet at 23 years old and with a first-round pedigree behind him, Veach and the Chiefs are taking a calculated risk.
The Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles aren’t intertwined much throughout history, but they certainly were in 1950.
After four years and as many championships in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC), the Browns merged into the NFL. In their debut, they visited the Eagles, winners of the past two league titles.
With the national expectation of a Philadelphia rout, the football world was stunned by Cleveland rolling to a 35-10 victory. Browns quarterback Otto Graham had a phenomenal night, throwing for 346 yards and three touchdowns. After the game, Eagles coach Greasy Neale stated Cleveland counterpart Paul Brown “would be a better basketball coach because all he does is put the ball in the air.”
Three months later, the rematch happened. The Browns won 13-7 in Cleveland while proving a point, not throwing once. It’s the last NFL game where a team didn’t attempt a pass.
Thanksgiving is on Thursday, and I’m thankful for plenty even in this turbulent year.
What I’m not thankful for? Having to watch the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans while grabbing a drumstick.
I’m a traditionalist, and the Lions have been playing on Turkey Day since 1934. It’s a Motown specialty, and for the early decades of the tradition, Detroit was often a winner. Unfortunately, that’s not been the case for much of the past 50 years.
With respect to one of Stacking The Box’s favorite readers, the Lions aren’t a national draw like the Cowboys. They aren’t typically in the race. It’s a tough ask for the casual fan to tune in, and frankly, in such a massive TV slot, the NFL should aim to do better.
However, the biggest gripe is the matchup. The league should be giving us a divisional game like we get with Washington and Dallas — please, pass the spirits — in the latter afternoon tilt. Instead, we get the moribund Texans and a game that means virtually nothing in the standings.
At least the Steelers host the Ravens in the nightcap, giving us all a renewed reason to be thankful.
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