Joe Burrow 'not a quitter,' and he'll need that resolve to revive Bengals

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow had a message he needed to deliver toward the end of a 36-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

On a day when he was hobbled and humbled, Burrow went down the sideline to tell his teammates he wasn't going to quit on them, even when it was clear the 2020 first overall draft pick could no longer change the outcome.

For the first time in his career, Burrow experienced what many in Cincinnati have known all too well -- a stinging defeat to the Steelers that again underscored the disparity between the two franchises.

In a weird way, it was the type of pummeling that showed why Burrow could be the right guy for the Bengals, even on a day when he said he played "terrible." Between his comments to teammates and remarks to reporters after the game, Burrow showed the ability to endure the type of adversity that comes with being the Bengals' franchise quarterback.

"I'm not a quitter," Burrow said after Sunday's loss. "I'm not going out of the game. Doesn't matter if we're down 100, down 10, down 20. I'm not going out."

When the Bengals drafted Burrow to be their next face of the franchise, it meant he accepted all of the baggage that comes with it. That includes no Super Bowl wins, no playoff victories in almost 30 years and no postseason appearances since 2015, when the Bengals were ousted by the Steelers in the infamous Vontaze Burfict-Antonio Brown wild-card game.

In his first game against Pittsburgh (9-0), the lone undefeated team in the NFL, Burrow got a firsthand look at the hill that he must climb for Cincinnati to be successful.

Burrow and the offense struggled to find a rhythm at Heinz Field. Only 24 of Burrow's 213 yards came in the second half, as he went 5-of-15 passing in the final two quarters and the Bengals spent the entire time chasing a big deficit.

He also rolled an ankle at the end of the first half when Pittsburgh's Bud Dupree shoved him and Burrow's momentum sent him tumbling into the bench.

But after the game, Burrow downplayed the entire incident, calling Dupree's nudge "a little boost" and saying how his ankle felt didn't matter.

His coach felt differently. Zac Taylor was muted on Monday with his disdain regarding a non-call but said a TV camera could have captured frustrations that lasted for minutes afterward.

Burrow didn't complain about the ankle and said the game could have been more competitive if he didn't play so poorly. That demeanor wasn't lost on Taylor.

"Joe always feels the right feeling after these games and puts a lot of pressure on himself because he knows that he can handle it," Taylor said. "He knows the team looks to him for leadership."

In many ways, Burrow was specifically built for the task of trying to turn around one of the worst franchises in the NFL. Growing up in southeast Ohio, Burrow's high school had never won a playoff game in its history until Burrow became the starting QB. He took Athens High School from being a couple of plays from winning a state championship.

And although Burrow went down the sideline to tell teammates he didn't plan on quitting on them, they didn't need to hear it. They already knew.

"He loves to come back and fight and try to win it for his team," Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd said on Monday. "I know he'll always have that dog in him. It'll take a lot to make him quit."

For a franchise that has endured decades of losing, Burrow will need that kind of resiliency to bring the winning culture Taylor and the front office hoped for when they drafted him.

On Sunday, Cincinnati (2-6-1) lost its 11th straight game to the Steelers and fell to 3-19 against them since the start of the 2010 season.

Burrow wasn't fretting over the defeat or the one against the Baltimore Ravens earlier this season that was also lopsided. He wasn't worried about the past.

"I think you never want it to happen," Burrow said of the losses to the Steelers and Ravens. "But in my mind, we got two of those out of the way. Now I've played them one time, and I'm excited to play them the next time."

And even on a day when the Bengals felt lousy, they felt good about their quarterback.

"I'm proud to have that guy at the helm," Taylor said. "I'd go to battle with him any day of the week."