CINCINNATI — The list of injuries has become almost too much to keep track of anymore.
The latest came Thursday night in Baltimore as Joe Burrow threw a touchdown pass to the flat and ligaments in the Cincinnati Bengals’ starting quarterback’s wrist snapped.
Just went pop.
Surgery needed. Season over.
Can’t make this stuff up.
Add 2023 to the growing list.
Bengals’ Burrow out for season with wrist injury
Almost three years ago to the day, on Nov. 22, 2020, Burrow tore his ACL in Washington. Since then, he went through that rigorous recovery, recently admitting it took almost two years to feel fully back to his full pre-injury self. Then in 2021, he injured his throat, dislocated a pinkie, battled a knee injury in December and sprained the other knee in the Super Bowl. Then there was the appendectomy in the 2022 training camp where he lost 20 pounds. He fought an elbow issue in December.
Just as he grew excited for his first healthy training camp, he strained his calf on the second day of camp and after multiple frustrating tweaks didn’t return to his full self until 73 days later in Week 5 against the Arizona Cardinals.
Turns out his season would only consist of five games plus 24 minutes and 11 seconds on Thursday.
Now, another surgery, rehab and long offseason preparing for a return awaits.
People have accused Burrow of being a robot, a genius, an assassin and an alien, among other monikers, but ultimately, he’s still human. This grind must take a toll. It must wear on him physically and mentally. That compilation must be concerning.
“No,” Burrow said with his typical straight face and matter-of-fact approach. It was like sitting in front of the microphone on Friday, hours after learning his season was over, he’d moved on to the next play like an incompletion on first-and-10. Snap and clear.
“Just going to treat it like anything else,” he said. “You analyze the situation. You go through the process of what it’s going to take to get back and you go and do it. That’s all you can do.”
We’ve got the guys to continue to win. pic.twitter.com/EAcU8tHaa4
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) November 17, 2023
The term “injury-prone” has been thrown around, along with the number of sacks absorbed and the fact many of these injuries occurred in the pocket behind an offensive line too often not doing its job well enough. You’ll hear the name Andrew Luck. The ghost of his career hovers over Burrow’s due to the remarkable parallels. A franchise-altering No. 1 overall pick battling from injury to injury. Luck then walked away from a massive contract and essentially disappeared.
Yet, around the offices inside Paycor Stadium, worries about this piling up too fast on Burrow don’t exist. Not with the quarterback. Not with the head coach. Not with anybody who knows Burrow well.
“I think if he was a normal human being, you’d worry about it,” Zac Taylor said. “He’s not. He’s wired differently. He’s programmed differently. We are fortunate to have him. That’s why he has achieved all the things in his lifetime that he has. He’s just built a little bit different to be able to overcome setbacks and challenges and plays with a chip on his shoulder, all the things you can say about a guy like that. That’s why I’ve got confidence he’ll respond from this the right way at the right time. And again, that’s just part of how Joe is built.”
The silver lining on a dark day in Cincinnati is Burrow’s injury, after surgery, would typically heal fine and not cause any long-term threats. He says the next few days will be spent talking to all the experts and doing all the research on the issue and figuring out the plan for full recovery. He’ll treat this like a defensive disguise to solve on third down.
He wants to “be present” for his team. He typically leads quietly and by example, but acknowledges that can’t be his demeanor when sidelined as a supporter for Jake Browning.
“Try to boost morale in any way that I can,” he said. “That’s the job that I have right now.”
Taylor said Burrow apologized to him upon sharing the news on Friday. The coach could only laugh at the concept of Burrow suffering a freak injury, but still feeling guilty for letting his team down.
“Love those guys,” Burrow said. “They’re going to keep fighting. Get wins, make the playoffs. Jake’s going to play great.”
Being a teammate and a leader of a football team means the world to Burrow. Having that stripped away hurts far worse than any torn wrist ligament or knee injury or throat or calf or burst appendix or, well, you get the point.
The draw and allure of that world, one he grew up in following his dad as a player and football coach, developed almost an appreciation for this plight. A twisted pride in taking on punishment, challenges and painful obstacles without hesitation. Not asking “why me?” in the process.
“It’s tough but that’s the life we live,” he said. “That’s football. You’re going to get injured. Things are going to happen. You’re going to have to overcome things. Everybody’s overcome things in their career to where they’re at. Everybody in that locker room has. Everybody across the league has. This is nothing different from anything anybody else has experienced.”
While it’s easy to cite Luck, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan points to players like Matthew Stafford who constantly fought and played through pain in Detroit and Los Angeles. Or Kirk Cousins in Minnesota. Or Lamar Jackson across the sideline Thursday. Nobody is immune.
Look around this league right now. Backup quarterbacks are starting everywhere. Every starter is dealing with some kind of soreness. The nature of the game and the freakish violence inherent in it in some ways necessitates all these QBs to take on this attitude or find a new career.
“The time and energy he puts into his body and making sure he’s at his best for this organization, you know, it kills you to watch someone have to go through this several times now,” Taylor said. “That’s football. Quarterbacks are going to deal with this kind of stuff.”
Extreme mental strength is a prerequisite for the job, not a luxury.
In a world of unknowns, the Bengals can say with certainty they have that trait in Burrow. So, yes, these injuries have piled up and they need to be sure one outcome of this season is better communication between quarterback and medical staff, but any concern over the compilation wearing mentally on the franchise quarterback is not part of the equation.
“There is not really any other option than to be that way,” Burrow said. “Otherwise, you’re not going to get through it and you’re not going to come back out on the other side. So no other option. A lot of guys in that room are injured, have been injured. A lot of guys across the league, that’s part of the job that we do. It’s expected. It’s not gonna be the last time something like this happens in my career, too. That’s just part of it.”
(Photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)
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