Joe Burrow living up to 'winner' reputation as Bengals secure AFC North crown

Orlovsky and Clark passionately disagree about the Rookie of the Year (2:20)

Dan Orlovsky and Ryan Clark go back-and-forth on who should win Rookie of the Year between Ja'Marr Chase and Mac Jones. (2:20)

CINCINNATI -- Joe Burrow is not a loser.

Of all the traits the quarterback displayed before the Cincinnati Bengals drafted him No. 1 overall in 2020 -- his accuracy, decision-making and leadership -- Burrow’s disdain for defeat was perhaps most noteworthy.

Burrow was one defensive stop away from winning an Ohio high school state championship. In his final season at LSU, the Tigers went undefeated and won the College Football Playoff. It’s a proven ability to turn around bad or mediocre teams.

On Sunday, he was a winner again. In the toughest test of the season, Burrow dazzled in a 34-31 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs that clinched Cincinnati’s first playoff berth and AFC North title since 2015.

When the Bengals drafted him, they wanted someone who could transform a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game in 31 years. And he has been as advertised.

“I know that’s why he’s here -- he’s always playing for championships,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “He’s playing for championships in high school, he played for championships in college, and his expectation has always been to compete for championships here.”

Even throughout various points this season, the thought of the Bengals (10-6) competing for any kind of titles seemed unlikely to everyone except those inside the locker room.

Even though the Bengals had six total wins in Taylor’s first two seasons and finished last in the AFC North for three straight seasons, the team believed this year could yield a playoff berth.

“I knew exactly what we could do and could be all the way from OTAs,” Burrow said.

All season, Cincinnati signaled an intention to impose its will on opponents, take calculated yet aggressive risks and earn victories and not stumble into them.


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Against Kansas City (11-5), which entered the game the winner of eight straight, Cincinnati’s offensive approach was a statement in itself. The Bengals went into an empty formation early in the game, eschewing formations designed to help Burrow that Cincinnati used early in the season.

It was a vote of confidence in Burrow’s ability to handle Kansas City’s pass rush and be successful.

Burrow repaid that trust from the coaching staff with a masterful performance.

He was 30-of-39 passing for 446 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions and set the franchise record for most touchdowns and passing yards in a single season. Burrow also became the first quarterback in NFL history to post a 400 yard/4 TD/0 INT game in back-to-back weeks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

And for the second straight week, he flummoxed one of the better defensive coordinators in the league. Kansas City’s Steve Spagnuolo, like Baltimore’s Wink Martindale, tried various things to stop Burrow. Nothing worked.

“I feel like he’s even smarter than he used to be when it comes to blitz pickups and coverages,” said rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who had a franchise-record 266 receiving yards. “He just reads it so well. That’s how you stay in the league as a quarterback.”

Less than three years ago, Burrow was widely viewed as a midtier NFL quarterback prospect. Then he set a litany of records at LSU, dethroned Alabama atop the SEC and won the Heisman Trophy.

Being overlooked isn’t new for Burrow. That’s why he was unaffected by the low expectation from those outside of the Bengals' facility heading into this season.

“I've always kind of played with a chip on my shoulder, whether people are saying good things about me or bad things about me.”

Before Burrow arrived in Cincinnati, there were times when the locker room cleared out immediately after one of the team’s 14 losses in 2019 and hardly anybody said a word.

In the aftermath of Sunday’s victory, Burrow lit a celebratory cigar from running back Joe Mixon, took a few puffs and relished the win before his postgame news conference. The photos and videos carried the same vibes of the LSU locker room celebrations from 2019.

Winning isn’t new to Burrow. At the high school and college level, victory proved inevitable with Burrow at quarterback.

The same has proven true in the NFL, too, after the best performance in a season full of statement wins.

“You don’t want a playoff berth or a division championship to be handed to you,” Taylor said. "That’s something you go take yourself -- and we wanted to go do it with a victory.”