A statistical fact so striking, I had to lead with it.
But this piece has nothing to do with statistics. Normally, I love leaning on them to clearly explain why something is or isn't happening in the wonderful world of football.
What's happening with the Bengals is not normal, and I've already scoured the stats -- nothing ugly is protruding this season that represents a stark difference from Burrow's dazzling 2022. He's being pressured at around the same rate. His average depth of target hasn't changed much. He's actually getting rid of the ball quicker than last year. Defenses haven't drastically changed how they're attacking Cincinnati's offense.
But that offense is missing its most defining characteristic -- confidence.
At its best, the Bengals' confidence is unbridled and relentless. Burrow scoffs at defenses' attempts to generate chaos around him and, heck yeah, he's going to throw a fastball to a seemingly covered Ja'Marr Chase or Tee Higgins. They'll make the play. The Bengals know it, everyone in the stadium knows it.
From that confidence comes Burrow's vintage swagger that was spawn in the Louisiana bayou with Chase, Justin Jefferson and Co. when they strutted their way through the gauntlet that is the SEC and trounced the defending champion, Trevor Lawrence-led Clemson Tigers 42-25 in the national title game to cap what, in the estimation of many, is the greatest offensive season in college football history.
And an ultra-confident quarterback with No. 1 overall pick talent, an exquisitely complementary trio of pass catchers and an offensive scheme that's a limb on the Kyle Shanahan tree, and you get one of the most dynamic attacks in the football.
Without the confidence so integral to their identity, the Bengals' mojo dissipates, as we've seen through four games in 2023.
Against the Titans, after nearly throwing what likely would've been a 90-plus-yard pick-six on Cincinnati's opening drive, Burrow and the Bengals offense lost "it" again.
And then the little connective intricacies between Burrow and his wideouts were severed.
Like here on a schemed swing pass to Chase near the end of the first quarter. Chase stopped, Burrow threw the ball to lead Chase up the field, and it's a drop.
That type of miss was seemingly nonexistent in this Bengals offense the past two years.
The first play of the second quarter exemplifies the confidence difference I've noticed in Burrow: play-action from the shotgun, faced with an immediate threat of a defender in his lap, who was quickly neutralized by Joe Mixon.
Burrow reset, and peered at Chase running down the seam, ready to break back to the outside for a classic back-shoulder opportunity. No target from Burrow. He held the ball again, and took a shot that led to another incompletion. Even if he wasn't hit, the intended target -- Tee Higgins -- was simply not open with two defenders in the area.
Then, later, the Titans bring seven rushers on a blitz, and Burrow typically identifies a defensive call that aggressive in a flash, and throws it to Chase flashing over the middle, he makes a man miss and the Bengals move the chain.
Instead, panic, which cannot survive within the mind of a confident quarterback, crept in, Burrow held the ball too long, looking for the longer developing route, and was hit as he's thrown. Incomplete.
Check Tyler Boyd -- at the bottom of the screen -- on that play. Visibly agitated.
And how about the final throw of the game in Week 4, a fitting microcosm of Burrow's current unrecognizable to Joe Cool or Joe Shiesty vibe.
He didn't like his first read to the right side of the field -- correctly identified a lurking defensive back over the top -- had some pressure at his feet, felt it, then before he was set, made a hurried, inaccurate throw into the flat that fell incomplete.
Now, of course, Burrow's calf may be -- or is likely? -- playing a role here. At a position as demanding as quarterback in the NFL, an injury is absolutely enough to throw a passer off-kilter.
Despite his status as Cincinnati's Confidence Captain, this start for the Bengals isn't solely on Burrow. His wideouts aren't making spectacular catches as often as before. There's an occasional drop here and there. Protection hasn't been perfect. The list goes on.
What's encouraging for the Bengals -- the intangible confidence can reappear at any moment. And if it's sustained for more than a play or two, the lever on the circuit breaker is cranked skyward, and Burrow can be back, emphatically.
And now sitting at 1-3 in a loaded AFC with Higgins out for at least a few weeks, the Bengals desperately need to rediscover their trademark confidence.