The Cincinnati Bengals sent the message early and sent it often.
The gloves are off. Joe Burrow is back.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, two of his first three passes covered over 20 yards in the air, although the third one was deflected for an interception that halted a Cincinnati Bengals’ drive.
Nevertheless, the meaning was clear. Burrow was going to challenge the Steelers, if only his line would give him time.
And did it ever.
For the first time in over a year, Burrow did not suffer a sack, and was only hit once.
Instead, it was Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who felt the pressure. Roethlisberger was sacked four times, intercepted twice and hit another seven times.
“It’s fun watching the other quarterback on his back,” Bengals’ head coach Zac Taylor said. “Our guys are relentless with pressure.”
And he wasn’t just referring to the defense. Cincinnati’s offense kept the pressure on, as well. After misfiring on two of his first three passes of the afternoon, Burrow completed his next six passes in a row, and went into halftime with a 14-7 lead. The Bengals stretched the advantage to 24-7 before the Steelers were able to tack on a meaningless field goal.
Cincinnati opened the scoring with a 17-yard touchdown strike from Burrow to Tyler Boyd, then Burrow hit Ja’Marr Chase for a beautiful 34-yard touchdown pass just before the end of the first half. It was Chase’s third touchdown reception of the season.
Burrow engineered a 10-play, 55-yard drive that ended with a field goal midway through the third quarter, then hooked up with Chase on a nine-yard touchdown pass that broke Randy Moss’ record for the most touchdown receptions in the first three games of a career.
“There was some fire and emotion,” said Cincinnati left tackle Jonah Williams. “That’s a good feeling. We’re excited to throw a touchdown. We’re excited for our receiver and the quarterback. When we jog off the field and all the coaches are high-fiving us and telling us ‘great job’ too, it’s a good feeling for us as an O line to contribute to that in the only way we can, which is by putting up good protection. Those are the moments that make this game so fun, being able to jog off the field, and we all know we did a good job and everyone’s happy. It’s a good feeling.”
It was a good feeling for Burrow, too, who finished the day having completed 14 of 18 passes for 172 yards, three touchdowns, and interception, and a passer rating of 122.9. Quite the turnaround from last week’s three-interception game in Chicago.
“It just felt night and day,” Burrow said.
Hopefully, it is a feeling that will continue.