Joe Burrow sat down for a postgame press conference after his first career NFL game on Sunday. He was asked to grade his individual performance, just minutes after a 16-13 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers inside an empty Paul Brown Stadium.
“D,” Burrow said. “I can’t miss that one to AJ (Green). A high schooler can make that throw and I can’t throw the ball right to (Melvin) Ingram and give them the ball right back in scoring range. Tough way to lose.”
Always his harshest critic, Burrow’s tough grading scale comes as no surprise to those who have followed the star quarterback’s career. He could throw seven touchdown passes during a high school game while at Athens High School and afterwards be picking apart the two incomplete passes he may have thrown.
In reality, Burrow’s professional debut deserved a much higher grade, even though it came in a difficult defeat. Burrow, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner from LSU and the No. 1 overall pick last April, was the only rookie to start a game in the opening weekend of the 2020 season.
With no preseason games to work with, Burrow jumped into the deep end of the pool head first so to speak on Sunday, taking on the likes of Ingram and his former teammate at Ohio State, defensive end Joey Bosa.
Burrow completed 23 of 36 passes for 193 yards and an interception. He rushed for 46 yards, opening the scoring with a 23-yard scramble for his first career touchdown.
And Burrow was so close to delivering what would have felt like a perfect finish to his debut, as he drove the Bengals down the field in the closing minutes without any timeouts.
The Bengals went 69 yards in 14 plays, with Burrow’s 10-yard pass to Giovani Bernard getting the team down to the Chargers 3-yard line with 17 seconds left.
It appeared Burrow delivered the winning touchdown pass to A.J. Green, but an offensive pass interference call nullified the score.
Now, with only seven seconds left, Bengals’ coach Zac Taylor opted to kick a field goal.
Randy Bullock missed a 31-yard attempt wide right, and the game was suddenly over.
Bullock said in the postgame that he felt a cramp in his leg during the kick, resulting in the miss.
“It doesn’t matter what happened on the kick,” Burrow said. “We should have put them away a lot of times before that.”
Burrow also declined to blame the offensive pass interference call on Green.
“It was just a bang-bang play,” Burrow said. “At the end of the day, I made too many mistakes to win the game and we didn’t make enough plays.”
Burrow’s interception came on a shovel pass, with Ingram getting the turnover in the fourth quarter. Burrow was able to shake off that mistake however, and still nearly pull out a win.
“That’s what we expect,” Taylor said. “He just moves onto the next play. I’m sure he’s disappointed that he had the turnover, but you don’t sense that at all from him on the sidelines. He’s focused on what he has to get done. He went out there and put us in position to win or tie the game.”
The Bengals are coming off a 2-14 season that helped them secure the No. 1 overall pick that landed Burrow, the 2015 Athens High School graduate.
The Chargers were able to get pressure on Burrow in the first half, slowing down the passing attack. Los Angeles finished with three sacks and five tackles for loss in the game.
But there are signs that the season can play out differently than last year, one being the return of Green. After missing all of the 2019 season with an ankle injury, he caught five passes from Burrow for 51 yards.
“Joe is going to be fine,” said Green, who is entering his ninth season in Cincinnati. “He’s a leader. He doesn’t get down on himself. He knows what he’s capable of.”
The Bengals won’t have any choice but to turn the page from the loss, as a Thursday night game at AFC North rival Cleveland awaits. The Browns were thrashed on Sunday at Baltimore, 38-6.
“I’m confident in our guys, always have been,” Burrow said. “We have no choice. We play in four days. Have to get healthy, get our bodies right and get ready to go.”
It’s an unusual spot for Burrow, who hadn’t lost a game since November of 2018 at Texas A&M. He only lost three games in two seasons at LSU, after going 37-4 during his three seasons at Athens.
Burrow has proven to be a quick study though. Once upon a time, he lost his first varsity football game as a sophomore to Gallia Academy, never losing another regular season game with the Bulldogs.
Of course, the NFL is a different animal. The video game numbers Burrow put up at Athens and LSU will be difficult to duplicate against pro defenses.
And it’s just one game, but Burrow certainly showed he belongs as an NFL starting quarterback. His never-satisfied, onto-the-next-opponent attitude will serve him well during the 16-game grind of a season.
Sunday was so close to a perfect beginning for Burrow, before the pass interference and the missed field goal. But there was still plenty to be excited about after seeing Athens County’s own playing in the NFL.