Joe Burrow's rookie season ended prematurely when he suffered a severe knee injury during the Cincinnati Bengals' Week 11 loss to the Washington Football Team. An MRI has confirmed that Burrow has suffered MCL and ACL tears to his left knee, according to CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora. He will undergo reconstructive surgery. Despite the severity of his quarterback's injury, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor provided an optimistic response when foreshadowing Burrow's upcoming recovery and rehabilitation.
While the exact timetable for Burrow's recovery varies, Cincinnati Reds doctor Timothy Kremchek told the Cincinnati Enquirer that there is a realistic expectation that Burrow should be able to return in 9-12 months, which may result in Burrow missing the start of the 2021 season.
"We expect him to have surgery and rehab and make a full recovery and be ready for the 2021 season," Taylor told reporters on Monday. "He's been in great spirits, on the bus, on the plane, in the facility today. He's responded as well as he could possibly do it, and we've all noticed that."
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, Burrow was an immediate starter, going 23 of 36 for 193 yards in Cincinnati's season-opening loss to the Chargers. Burrow's play improved as the season progressed. In Week 2, he threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns in the Bengals' 35-30 loss to the Browns. He threw for over 300 yards in the Bengals' next two games that included the team's first victory of the season, a 33-25 win over Jacksonville.
Burrow, who threw for at least 300 yards five times, threw for a season-high 406 yards in Cincinnati's 37-34 home loss to the Browns in Week 7. And while his passing yardage dipped over his final three games, Burrow did not throw an interception during that span while throwing four touchdown passes.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner ended his rookie season with 2,688 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. He currently leads the NFL in attempts (404) and completions (264) while helping the Bengals win as many games this season as they did throughout the 2019 season. Burrow was also sacked 32 times, the third-highest total in the league behind Carson Wentz (40) and Russell Wilson (32).
"He had 10 games of really good reps, and you could see the growth he made in all of those games," Taylor said of Burrow. "He'll have a chance to reflect on it in the offseason. Trust me, he's probably already started that process. He'll be very much involved in these next six weeks. That's just kind of how he's wired. He'll still be around. He'll still have plenty of work he can do on his own to get back in shape and help us going forward."
Taylor said that Burrow's ability to learn the Bengals' offense this past offseason, despite the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presented, gives him confidence that Burrow will not have any setbacks as it relates to balancing his rehabilitation and preparing for the 2021 season.
"He's an expert in missing an offseason and playing effectively," Taylor said. "I do have that to fall back on. I know that about Joe. There won't be any guesswork in how he handles it. We've already seen it first hand. So that part is encouraging."
Taylor, who specifically named receiver Tyler Boyd as a player who will help replace the leadership void left by Burrow's injury, was asked about the outpouring of support Burrow has received from many high-profile players, from Wilson to Patrick Mahomes to Alex Smith, who underwent a two-year recovery period after enduring a severe leg injury.
"There's that old saying, 'Those who know, know' that's often used in football," Taylor said. "The players around the league, the coaches around the league that have seen the tape of Joe Burrow, they know what kind of pro he has been and what he is going to be and what he is going to mean to this franchise going forward. For him to already have that effect, not only in Cincinnati and in this building, but around the league in just three, four months shows where we expect him to be in the future as a player."
While Burrow is still the future, the Bengals' present is now in the hands of second-year quarterback Ryan Finley, who will make his fourth career start this Sunday at home against the 3-7 Giants. And while losing your starting quarterback is a tough pill to swallow, Taylor said that he expects his team to be highly motivated heading into Sunday's game.
"We can't feel sorry for ourselves," Taylor said. "It is the hand we're dealt. We've got to find a way to regroup and find some momentum moving forward."