CINCINNATI — What a difference five days makes.
The Bengals entered their Week 10 matchup with the Texans with a 5-3 record and winners of four-straight games. There was plenty of talk about them being one of the top teams in the league. They had rallied from a 1-3 start and had a chance to make another deep run this season.
It only took five days for the 2023 campaign to take a devastating turn.
Houston outplayed them for most of that game and Cincinnati's fourth quarter rally came up short in a 30-27 loss. That set up what many considered to be a "must-win" game for the Bengals against the Ravens on a short week. If they wanted to keep their chances of winning the AFC North alive, they needed to beat their division rival.
The first 19 minutes of that game went exactly how the Bengals planned. The defense settled in after an ugly first drive. The offense scored early and Cincinnati ultimately took a 3-point lead when Joe Burrow found Joe Mixon for a 4-yard touchdown with 5:53 left in the first half.
Unfortunately, that touchdown pass will be the last throw Burrow makes this year.
The 26-year-old will undergo wrist surgery in the near future and miss the rest of the 2023 season.
The Bengals have to find a way to overcome losing their best player, while the rest of the NFL can breathe a sigh of relief.
They don't have to deal with Burrow.
There aren't many guys that strike fear in their opponents, especially in a one-and-done playoff format. Burrow is one of them.
Not having him on the field doesn't only change the Bengals' outlook, it changes the NFL landscape.
The Bengals are 5-5 and they'll do what they can to make a playoff push, but they're no longer Super Bowl contenders.
It's unfortunate. Having top quarterbacks and great players fighting for playoff positioning helps make the NFL great.
There's been a lot of discourse about Burrow and the Bengals in recent days. The former Comeback Player of the Year is being labeled "injury prone." Others are blaming the offensive line. Some think the Bengals need to change their pass-first offense and/or part with various assistant coaches.
This Bengals team is going to look different moving forward. There's a chance Burrow has thrown his last pass to Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. The tight end room, the offensive line and even the coaching staff could look much different next season.
Despite all of the uncertainty, we do know one thing: Burrow will be back.
Yes, he played through the calf injury this season and tried to overcome a 1-3 start. He's also had various other injuries in his career, including a torn ACL and a MCL sprain he suffered in Super Bowl LVI.
Burrow isn't worried about the injuries he's suffered in the first four seasons.
"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."
The Bengals star was understandably upset about the news, but he's not going to let it impact his mental outlook moving forward.
"Count Burrow out at your own risk."
It's a quote I've used frequently during a season filled with adversity after back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game.
It's easy to dismiss the Bengals moving forward. Burrow is out for the season, the roster is going to look much different in 2024 with plenty of key pieces in their final year of their respective contracts.
There will be plenty of arguments against Burrow and the Bengals moving forward. This offseason could be filled roster turnover and plenty of new faces as we get farther and farther removed from their run to Super Bowl LVI.
The Bengals are banking on Burrow to continue to lead them, even if they have to make some tweaks or major changes along the way.
No one in the organization [including Burrow] is going to let a wrist injury impact their long-term outlook or vision of the franchise.
“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.”
Plenty of people will dismiss Burrow and the Bengals moving forward. They may be right—maybe.
Count Burrow out at your own risk.
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