CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Burrow was sacked three times and hit hard seven more times, roughed up by a defense that allowed the short completion while knocking the rookie quarterback around.
It’s a formula the Bengals have to change quickly.
Burrow was impressive again Thursday night during a 35-30 loss in Cleveland, throwing 61 times and keeping the Bengals (0-2) in the game until the end.
Good impressions are only that, as the Heisman Trophy winner and national champion from LSU knows so well.
“I will never adjust or accept losing,” Burrow said. “That is just something that is not in my mindset so this 0-2 start is really hurting me.”
The Browns (1-1) got the intrastate win by running over Cincinnati’s defense and keeping Burrow in check just enough to hold the lead from the first quarter until the end. The Bengals realize they’ve found a franchise quarterback in Burrow, who improved significantly from a 16-13 opening loss to the Chargers.
Burrow, the only rookie quarterback starting in the NFL this season, went 37 of 61 for 316 yards with three touchdowns, no interception and one fumble. Twenty-nine of his throws came late in the fourth quarter when the Bengals trailed by two touchdowns and abandoned the run.
The Bengals ran only 24 times in all, including seven scrambles by Burrow, who was hit often when he set up in the pocket.
“We don’t want our quarterback taking shots,” coach Zac Taylor said Monday. “We don’t want to live in a drop-back world.”
Burrow feels comfortable in an up-tempo, spread offense that allows him to get rid of the ball quickly. His best moments in the first two games came when Cincinnati ditched the huddle and got plays off quickly. The challenge now is to figure out how to get a more balanced offense while allowing Burrow to do what he does best.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Bengals overhauled the defense in the offseason, but it was as bad as ever in Cleveland. The Browns ran for 215 yards overall, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. When the Bengals cut it to 28-23 in the fourth quarter, the Browns put it away by running six consecutive times in a touchdown drive that included runs of 26, 33 and 10 yards. Cincinnati had the NFL’s worst run defense last season, allowing 149 yards per game. The Chargers ran for 155 in the opener, and the Browns went 60 yards better.
“That is rough,” defensive tackle D.J. Reader said. “Phew — 200 yards rushing yards is just a lot of yards. You never want to give up that much.”
In addition to Burrow’s performance, the Bengals were encouraged by second-year tight end Drew Sample, who had seven catches for 45 yards, including a one-hand grab. He matched Tyler Boyd for the team high in catches. Sample was a second-round pick last year who was limited to nine games and five catches as a rookie before suffering an ankle injury.
The offensive line had a shaky opener and was shoved around again in Cleveland. Fred Johnson started at right guard in place of Xavier Su’a-Filo, out with an ankle injury. The Browns kept steady pressure on Burrow, and Joe Mixon was held to 46 yards on 16 carries. Taylor indicated there could be changes on the line before the next game in Philadelphia.
“Nothing’s off the table, that’s for certain,” Taylor said.
Tight end C.J. Uzomah tore his left Achilles on Thursday night and is done for the season. Uzomah was the top returning tight end with 27 catches last season. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins might be back for the game in Philadelphia after missing the first two with a shoulder injury.
5 for 5: The Bengals stayed in the game by taking risks and converting all five of their fourth-down attempts, with Burrow finding open receivers.
Stop Burrow from getting hit so often and stop opposing running backs from picking up so many yards.