On the surface, this doesn’t figure to be a “Game of the Week’’ as much as it should be termed “Game of the Weak,’’ based on the 2019 standings with the Bengals coming off a 2-14 season and the Chargers 5-11.
This game’s draw, however, is all about the starting quarterback for the Bengals — No. 1-overall draft pick Joe Burrow, who’ll start his first game as a pro after a dynamic college career at LSU.
As with every quarterback who’s picked No. 1 overall, we all wonder if Burrow is the NFL’s next great quarterback.
In May, Burrow had a valuable conversation with former Colts and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, also a No. 1-overall pick who went to a losing franchise. Manning, an immediate starter in Indianapolis as a rookie, survived early bumps and became one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and a certain Hall of Fame entrant when he’s eligible.
“I felt like we were in very similar situations coming in, and he felt the same,” Burrow told reporters in July. “He just gave me a lot of different advice when it came to marketing, how to handle the huddle, how to handle coaches, how assertive to be in your first year and how you build upon that.”
If Burrow is able to succeed as an immediate starter while overcoming the devastating curveballs the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown everyone, it will go down as one of the most remarkable sports stories of 2020.
Surviving and succeeding as a rookie starting quarterback in the NFL is highly difficult to begin with. Doing it with an offseason reduced to Zoom meetings instead of hands-on coaching, along with a truncated training camp and not a single preseason game to at least get a feel for the speed of the pro game?
That’s as high a degree of difficulty as you’ll find in sports, let alone football.
So here goes Burrow, who was named the Bengals’ starter by head coach Zac Taylor on Aug. 30 after the rookie took every training-camp rep, playing his first game Sunday, against the Chargers in Cincinnati.
Listening to his coaches and teammates, it sounds like Burrow is up for the challenge, not intimidated, but confident.
“For a kid that hasn’t played NFL football, he has a great feel for the game,’’ offensive coordinator Brian Callahan told ESPN.com.
“He has high expectations for himself,” Taylor told reporters. “It’s not this false confidence that he walks around with. We see the work.’’
Burrow’s teammates have noticed.
“How he approaches the huddle, how he comes into the huddle, he doesn’t come in like a rookie, he comes in almost like a vet, like he’s been there before,’’ Bengals receiver Auden Tate said, according to ESPN.
“We have a very complex offense, a lot of plays, and Joe is picking it up like it’s nothing,” veteran receiver A.J. Green told ESPN.
On the other side of the ball, the Chargers, too, will be breaking in a new quarterback, but not a rookie.
After 14 years with Philip Rivers behind center, the Chargers enter a new chapter.
Rivers is now in Indianapolis, and his successor — for the moment — is 31-year-old journeyman Tyrod Taylor, formerly of the Ravens, Bills and Browns. Taylor hasn’t started an NFL game since Week 3 of the 2018 season.
Behind Taylor is Justin Herbert, the No. 6-overall pick this spring. The Chargers have been positive about Herbert’s development in training camp, but their plan has always been to give him time to develop while Taylor starts initially — the opposite direction the Bengals are taking.
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