The Cincinnati Bengals‘ start to the 2023 NFL season has been less than ideal, to say the least. And now, Bengals fans are staring down the prospect of not watching their superstar quarterback on “Monday Night Football.”
Joe Burrow on Sunday re-aggravated the calf strain he first sustained during training camp, and Bengals coach Zac Taylor could not confirm whether the franchise signal-caller would be available to face the Los Angeles Rams in Week 3. On the surface, it looks like more bad news for Cincinnati — although Taylor cautioned the Bengals were still in their “evaluation process.”
Who is Burrow’s backup?
If the Bengals decide Burrow can’t go next week in the Super Bowl LVI rematch, former Washington Huskies quarterback Jake Browning would be the next man up under center.
Browning, an undrafted free agent from the 2019 draft class, signed with Cincinnati‘s practice squad in 2021. He won the backup job behind Burrow after a strong preseason, and he even debuted in the Week 1 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
It sounds like the Bengals’ quarterback decision could come down to the wire entering next Monday — and although Browning has won his supporters on the coaching staff, Cincinnati would prefer to have Burrow taking the snaps as the franchise looks to avoid its first 0-3 start since 2019, before Burrow entered the NFL.
Bengals can’t avoid another slow start
Since Burrow‘s arrival in the NFL, the Bengals have made a habit of starting a bit slowly before roaring to life later in the season.
Cincinnati won just one of its first seven games in 2020 before “rallying” to finish 4-11-1, even after losing Burrow to a knee injury. In 2021, the Bengals started 5-2 before hitting a midseason lull, recovering in time to make a run to the Super Bowl. And last season’s start mirrors this one — Cincinnati needed to overcome an 0-2 start to make the playoffs, just as it needs to now.
Expectations around the Bengals remain high, with some sportsbooks naming Burrow as the favorite for NFL MVP before the season began. But until the $50 million quarterback overcomes his calf strain and returns to form, the Bengals will remain stuck in neutral, opening the door for a surprise out of the AFC North.