CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals will be asked to save their season without their franchise savior.
Coach Zac Taylor confirmed the wrist injury Joe Burrow suffered on Thursday night in Baltimore is a season-ending torn ligament. The severity was revealed during an MRI on Friday. The injury will likely require surgery.
“If (Burrow) were a normal human being, you’d worry about it. He’s not,” Taylor said Friday. “He’s wired differently.”
As Bengals await Joe Burrow’s wrist diagnosis, time ticks away on their season
Burrow incurred the injury on the play before what would be his final touchdown pass to Joe Mixon and felt the pop on the ensuing throw, a team source said.
The Bengals will go forward with backup Jake Browning at quarterback.
Burrow’s worst season as a pro will go down as one defined by two injuries and two compression sleeves. Back on July 27, Burrow walked out to the second training camp practice of the season with a compression sleeve on his right calf. Two hours into that session, he went down with a strained calf. He reaggravated the injury multiple times, including on the final play of a Week 2 loss to the Ravens. He wasn’t close to right until Week 5 at Arizona. His health set off a four-game win streak and a string of franchise quarterback performances.
Then, on the bus and flight to Baltimore, Burrow showed up with a compression sleeve on his right wrist. Thursday night, following another touchdown pass against the Ravens, another injury. The NFL is investigating the Bengals for not listing Burrow on the injury report.
He finished the season 244 of 365 (66.8 percent) for 2,309 yards with 15 touchdowns against six interceptions. He posted a passer rating of 91.0, though all his numbers were affected by playing four games with the calf injury rendering him mostly immobile.
Burrow, who signed a $275 million contract with $219 million guaranteed the Thursday before the season opener, will now revert to the world’s highest-paid cheerleader, supporting Browning.
Browning, who had attempted one NFL pass before Thursday, will be tasked with guiding the Bengals’ season of high expectations to the finish line.
The Bengals are 5-5 overall and 0-3 in the division, sitting outside the AFC playoff picture. Their final seven games are all against teams currently .500 or better.
They will use the extra days to plot a new path forward.
“One game at a time,” Taylor said Thursday. “It starts with Pittsburgh. We got a home game here, it’s a big one. That’s the only thing we can control at this point so I know our guys will be excited.”
Taylor reiterated he was not discouraged about the rest of the season after Thursday night’s game, playing a card of optimism he often leans into in times of adversity.
“Zac and (offensive coordinator Brian) Callahan will have a great plan,” tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said after the game. “That’s the thing about this organization, they are never down. I got a ton of confidence in our team and the players and personnel we have. Jake is going to get the job done.”
Browning will be backed up by AJ McCarron, who knows these situations all too well. He took over a Bengals team that started 8-0 and won the division in 2015 after Andy Dalton broke his thumb in December.
McCarron famously was a Bengals meltdown away from winning a playoff game with a touchdown pass to A.J. Green.
In 2005, a division-winning Bengals team with Super Bowl aspirations saw Carson Palmer go down with a torn ACL on the first pass of his first playoff game.
Now add Burrow’s wrist to the list of crushing quarterback injury derailments.
Burrow was listed as a leading MVP candidate and the Bengals were a trendy Super Bowl pick during the four-game win streak.
Instead, after two magical seasons led by Burrow to Super Bowl 56 and the AFC Championship Game, they fall victim to the brutal parity and randomness of the league injury cycle. And whatever they can muster rallying around Browning.
Burrow bounced back … until now
The Bengals quarterback certainly struggled with his lingering calf injury at the start of the season and his metrics helped tell the story. Here’s a look at where Burrow ranked in traditional and advanced metrics, via TruMedia:
- Expected Points Added per dropback: -0.26 (26th)
- Total EPA: -31.8 (29th)
- Completion percentage: 62.4 (26th)
- Passer rating: 78.3 (27th)
In that span, Burrow produced his two worst passer rating performances of his career. He amassed a 52.2 rating in a Week 1 loss to the Cleveland Browns and a 59.8 rating in a Week 3 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
Then Burrow’s calf healed and so did his game.
- EPA per dropback: 0.10 (seventh)
- Total EPA: 18.3 (sixth)
- Completion percentage: 72.0 (third)
- Passer rating: 105.9 (third)
There’s really no replacing Burrow for the Bengals. — Larry Holder, NFL senior writer
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(Photo: Rob Carr / Getty Images)