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The 9 best throws from Joe Burrow’s 2021 season

Nine for No. 9.

San Francisco 49ers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

For all the things that Joe Burrow is commended for, it seems like his ability to throw the football gets lost in the constant praise.

Seriously, it’s a bit odd.

Quarterbacks are the face of the team in more ways than one. Their voice carries as much significance as their cap hits. They cost upwards of three first-round picks to acquire, and hundreds of millions in cash to keep around. When you know you have the right one, he can alter the trajectory of an entire franchise by himself.

Burrow did just that for the Bengals, and when he’s the topic of discussion, it’s his intangibles, charisma, and fashion that leads the conversation. It’s almost rare nowadays to see Burrow discourse involving the most important part of his job description.

Whether he’s being pinned against fellow 2020 draftmate Justin Herbert or other talented youngsters at the position, it’s the mental aspects that usually carry the argument for No. 9. I wanted to remind folks that the guy can throw the spin the pigskin as well.

For this list, I went through the entire catalog of throws Burrow made last season (662 if you’re curious) and picked the best nine out of all of them. There were indeed honorable mentions, which I will probably end up sharing on Twitter, but these nine were the ones I deemed most impressive.

Not all of them were big plays, touchdowns, or traveled the furthest through the air, but each of them had multiple layers of difficulty attached to them. And regardless of the end result, they are passes that make him one of the best quarterbacks in the world.

Week 3 @ Pittsburgh Steelers

2nd Q, 0:57, 2nd & 3, Ball on CIN 32

This is not a mistake, I did include an incomplete pass. I included two of them actually! This one stood out the moment the ball hit the ground for me.

The 9-8-9 route combo was a popular choice for the offense last year. Two go routes from the outside receivers sandwich a bang-8 route from the slot, which tries to split the two deep safeties that look to smother the outside go routes. Burrow saw this as soon as he reached the top of his drop and let it fly almost entirely off of his back foot, putting the onus entirely on his hips and arm. The hit he endured as soon as he released warranted a roughing the passer flag.

Would it have been a completion if it was placed a few inches closer to Boyd? Probably, but under-throwing Boyd here would’ve allowed the trailing defender a chance at the ball. Giving Boyd space to reel it in with three defenders closing in on him gave him a chance, and he just didn’t bring it in this time.

This makes the list do the instant pressure, reliance on arm and rotation, and quick decisiveness.

Week 6 @ Detroit Lions

2nd Q, 0:23, 3rd & 10, Ball on CIN 39

Pressure’s gonna be a central theme here if you can’t already tell. Many a time did Burrow take 5-step drops out of shotgun to help buy time before the opposing pass rush and blitz would break free of his protection. On this play, the pocket was collapsed right when his five steps concluded. The ball’s gotta be out, why not look to Uno against Cover 1?

Ja’Marr Chase hadn’t even stacked the corner when Burrow let it go amidst multiple Lions pass-rushers, but the placement with the safety coming over top was absolutely sublime. Burrow’s follow through was impeded with contact so this his lower half was not a primary contributor to the velocity and distance. A perfect throw made under immense duress.

Week 8 @ New York Jets

4th Q, 3:17, 2nd & 5, Ball on CIN 30

Upon the rewatch, I realized that this one escaped my memory banks. I think most in Cincinnati have repressed this game at least a little, but this throw is incredible.

Jonah Williams and Joe Mixon are each beaten inside and Burrow has to evade a muddied pocket. He scans from right to left against a Jets secondary playing man, so he knows if he buys enough time, Boyd can leverage his defender to the inside and break out with Burrow to the left. The way he resets his base after juking out the blitzer is top notch, and with a free runner in his face, Burrow steps into him while still leaning to his left before Boyd is even out of his break.

Thanks to some rough estimations and the handy dandy Pythagorean Theorem, this ball traveled about 33 yards from Burrow to Boyd, and it hit him perfectly in stride. Severely underrated toss.

Week 13 vs. Los Angeles Chargers

4th Q, 15:00, 2nd & 7, Ball on CIN 46

Let’s fast-forward several weeks. The Bengals’ desire to go empty had to battle with the limitations of their o-line for the entire season. This play exemplified the pros and cons on both sides of the debate.

Against a run-of-the-mill four-man rush, Burrow is still met with an unopposed free rusher up the middle caused by a miscommunication between Hakeem Adeniji and Trey Hill. In empty, the ball should naturally be out quickly, but you’d still like to be able to step into your throw. Burrow had to expedite his motion before getting clobbered upon his release.

That’s only one part of how incredible this completion was. Not only did Burrow have to three-quarters his motion here, the precision in order for the ball to reach Boyd is outstanding. Boyd is entering a soft spot in the Chargers’ secondary behind the MIKE—a matchup and spacing created by the 3X2 formation. The MIKE’s got his eyes on Burrow, but Boyd is intersecting with the playside safety coming downhill to meet him at the catch-point.

Burrow has to lob this ball over the MIKE but put it behind Boyd so the safety can’t make a play on it, which also protects Boyd upon impact. The throw was even tipped and it still found its way to No. 83. All after he got pummeled by a rusher coming straight at his face.

A wildly impressive throw to say the least.

Week 14 vs. San Francisco 49ers

4th Q, 9:30, 4th & 5, Ball on SF 17

I mean, this is going in the all-time reel for Burrow right? 20 years down the road we’ll still talk about this play.

Once more, the o-line collapses towards the right side thanks in part to a faux pressure look from the 49ers. The visual of an NFL quarterback turning his whole body behind the play on fourth down in the fourth quarter trailing by two touchdowns is not a common sight, and for Burrow, this maneuverability in the pocket just wasn’t with him early on in the season when he was still getting comfortable with his knee.

But in the blink of an eye, LSU Burrow, or Burreaux, was back.

After spinning and scrambling to his right, avoiding Kwon Alexander off of the edge, Burrow sprinted towards the sideline with his eyes in the end zone. He knows Chase’s corner route isn’t going to be open, so the LSU duo work off script. As Burrow continues rolling to his right, Chase veers back left. The rookie receiver is still moving in that direction when Burrow lets it fly at the last possible second.

To the utter confusion of the 49ers’ safety, Burrow led Chase back to the right with his throw, leaving Chase wide open at the back millimeter of the end zone.

This was caliber of playmaking ability that Bengals fans expected from Burrow; to make use of the broken play that very few other quarterbacks could. This was the long-awaited true return of Joe Shiesty.

Week 16 vs. Baltimore Ravens

4th Q, 5:44, 2nd & 20, Ball on BAL 32

There were 525 yards to pick from in this game, so I obviously went with another incompletion. But this is more Burrow magic and needs to be spotlighted.

Surprise, surprise! Pressure from the right destroys a perfectly fine pocket and Burrow’s restored prowess comes back to the forefront. The slide up through the pressure to resetting his feet allows him to reset his base before he’s forced to scramble upfield. He’s in a race against free rushers but he’s also running into the line of scrimmage. It’s second-and-forever, so running isn’t going to do much. No one is open for a mere mortal passer in this scenario.

Enter Boyd with no safety overtop of him.

The required power and touch combo for this pass to land in the receiver’s hands is marvelous. Had it been placed a bit further, Boyd could likely make a more suitable over-the-shoulder grab, but considering the circumstances in which Burrow let it fly, this is still one of the better throws of his season. The breakup job by Tony Jefferson was simply perfect. It’s too bad Baltimore couldn’t do this the whole afternoon.

Wild Card Round vs. Las Vegas Raiders

2nd Q, 5:10, 2nd & 11, Ball on CIN 31

Drew Brees said it himself on the broadcast for NBC: There’s no defense for a perfectly thrown pass.

What a dagger this was. You can feel the oomph in the velocity from Burrow’s clean base and follow-through. Amazing what a clean pocket can provide, right? The whole thing is straight out of teaching tape.

But young quarterbacks don’t normally think to target the seam when it’s completely covered. The only reasonable way to get the ball to him is by lobbing it up deep, but the play-side safety is eyeing the whole thing and he’ll cap the route. If this ball is going to end up in Uzomah’s grasp, it needs to be a perfect line drive over the defender’s head.

And it was.

Wild Card Round vs. Las Vegas Raiders

2nd Q, 2:00, 3rd & 4, Ball on LV 10

To some, this play will be linked to controversy and controversy only. That’s fair if you’re a Raiders fan. The orange and black faithful know all too well what happens on the other side of these whistles, whether they were warranted or not.

Looking past the whistle heard ’round the world, the quarterback threw a touchdown while he was hovering over out of bounds. That’s just not common. And neither is Burrow’s ability to keep plays alive.

The escapability isn’t the highlight here, as he simply stepped up and rolled to his right. Usually the quarterback will throw the ball out of bounds instead of across his body. But with Boyd already in the corner of the end zone upon the end of his route, there’s an opportunity for Burrow to break one of the cardinal rules of quarterbacking. Boyd is already shifting to his right and Burrow sees it immediately.

The whistle should’ve never been blown, but let’s be real, it didn’t stop the defender from making a play. He was already bamboozled out of his mind.

Super Bowl LVI vs. Los Angeles Rams

1st Q, 1:32, 1st & 10, Ball on CIN 43

It took a minute for the Bengals’ offense to wake up in the Super Bowl. This wake up felt like a bucket of cold ice being dropped on their head at 4:00 in the morning.

Seeing the secondary rotate to a single-high look, Burrow resorted to his go-to mindset: “Ja’Marr’s down there somewhere!” Chase was indeed down there after he caught Jalen Ramsey slacking for just a second, and a second is all he needs. While Chase had stacked the All-Pro cornerback, Ramsey was still near his hip pocket. An under-thrown ball may’ve led to a contested situation against a supremely talented defensive back.

To be perfectly honest, this is a much better catch than it was a throw as Chase had to reach out with one hand to secure it. Had it been half a foot shorter, Chase likely sprints into the end zone, but the circumstances do a good job of enhancing it.

This was also the closest Aaron Donald had gotten to Burrow the entire first half as the future Hall of Famer ended up right in Burrow’s face as he let it fly. He knew Donald was coming, and he knew he couldn’t give Ramsey a chance at the ball. Two of the best defenders in the game tried to stop this play, and Burrow flung it 50 yards with full confidence in the biggest game imaginable.

That’s Burrow in a nutshell.