Joe Burrow's Record-Breaking Sunday

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·12 min read
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  • Cincinnati Bengals
    Cincinnati Bengals
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  • Philadelphia Eagles
    Philadelphia Eagles
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  • Pittsburgh Steelers
    Pittsburgh Steelers
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  • Joe Burrow
    Joe Burrow
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  • Tee Higgins
    Tee Higgins
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  • Joe Mixon
    Joe Mixon
    American football player



We wondered if the Bengals would tailor their recent run-heavy attack to be more aerial friendly vs. the Ravens’ pass-funnel defense. We got our answer in the form of Joe Burrow’s 527-yard day, the fourth-most prolific passing total of all time. The effort got Burrow to 941 yards on the year vs. Baltimore, making him the first player in league history to surpass 900 yards against one team in one season.

As Burrow explained afterward, the Ravens’ first half zone scheme didn’t work. The second half blitzing wasn’t any better. He simply overawed a bad defense. That’s what good players do, something Burrow is now very much established as despite a season of, well, establishment from the Bengals. The run has been the recent focus as the Bengals shift their gaze to the postseason, but it is Burrow’s arm through which all roads travel.

Up to an elite 69.9 completion percentage, Burrow’s 8.7 yards per attempt is not only tops in the league, it’s a full two yards better than his rookie mark. Burrow has taken advantage of the arrival of his college running mate Ja’Marr Chase to open his game while freeing up space for Nos. 2 and 3 Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. That’s if you can even call Chase the No. 1. Higgins has staked a recent claim with his 366 yards over his past five games, making defending the Bengals top-two wideouts all but impossible.

Although the Bengals are trying to prove they can win in a variety of ways, Burrow is demonstrating something all true franchise players must: You can put the game on his shoulders. The coaching and surrounding talent matter, but you can either make the throws or you can’t. Whether it’s to Chase, Higgins, Boyd or even Joe Mixon or C.J. Uzomah, Burrow is doing it every Sunday. As Ben Roethlisberger limps into retirement, the Browns mull Baker Mayfield’s Cleveland future, and the Ravens search for answers after an injury-ruined campaign, the AFC North’s first stop could be moving to Cincinnati.

Five Week 16 Storylines

James Robinson pops his Achilles vs. Jets. This is the work of an unjust football god. Robinson is a former undrafted free agent. That means he has to earn it every year. This was vividly demonstrated this season by carpetbagging college coach Urban Meyer coming into Jacksonville and showing immediate preference for his old Ohio State buddy Carlos Hyde. Never mind that Robinson was twice as good, twice as versatile at this stage of his career. Robinson went out and lapped Hyde all the same, finally beating Meyer over the head with his superiority to the point that his teammates began openly talking about it to the media. In a rare moment of NFL justice, it was Robinson who triumphed and Meyer who was sent packing. Then Sunday happened. Known as a player whose whole is greater than the sum of his parts, Robinson seems uniquely ill-suited to return from a torn Achilles. Or maybe the fact that he is used to getting by with less transcendent athletic ability will prove to be his NFL superpower. Regardless, it will be the longest of roads, especially with first-rounder Travis Etienne returning for 2022. As unjust as it is, Robinson’s Dynasty league future is looking shaky.

Miles Sanders suffers broken hand in Eagles’ grind-it-out victory over Giants. Sanders finally had nice things. The football gods saw to it that wouldn’t last. Coming off the most productive game of his career, Sanders made it seven carries and 45 yards before departing against the G-Men. We don’t know how much time Sanders might miss, only that with just one game remaining in the fantasy campaign, his fake season is over. It’s a bitter pill for both the Eagles and fantasy managers, as everything had finally seemed to click for the third-year pro in Philadelphia’s run-heavy attack. Sanders’ hot streak also put an end to the Eagles’ productive if unpredictable backfield committee. Now it will be back with Boston Scott, Jordan Howard and Kenneth Gainwell all vying for a piece. Howard could have preference near the goal line — if he’s healthy after suffering a stinger — though Scott’s stronger overall game is worth the first bet.

Amon-Ra St. Brown starts to look like a wide receiver who matters. With his 9/91/1 performance against the Falcons, St. Brown became just the second rookie wideout in NFL history to post four straight eight-catch performances. The other was Odell Beckham in 2014. There is the first difference. Whereas St. Brown is largely compiling slot targets over the middle of the field, Beckham was dominating alpha cornerbacks on the boundary. This is not apples to oranges. It is also nothing to sneeze at seeing as St. Brown is catching passes from Jared Goff and Tim Boyle and has been put in the impossible position of being a fourth-round rookie who must serve as his team’s No. 1 weapon. St. Brown is succeeding in a spot where 99.9 percent of players would fail. He’s also living up to the high end of his pre-draft profile. The future is quite bright.

The Kyle Pitts prophecy grows a little more true. I said it many times during the summer: For Pitts’ rookie season to have any shot at living up to the hype, at the bare minimum he was going to have to match Jeremy Shockey’s 21st century rookie record for tight end yardage at 894. Sunday, he blew past it, not only doing so without the benefit of this year’s 17th game, but with a contest to spare on the former 16-game schedule. It has been a frustrating journey for fantasy managers since Pitts has posted just one score and few spiked weeks, but his numbers are frankly remarkable in the context of the Falcons’ lack of offensive talent. Pitts is the player opposing DCs have to game plan for. The fact that he is already up to the challenge speaks to a player who might live up to the impossible expectations after all.

Rashaad Penny puts another good game on film. The two highest yardage totals of Penny’s career have come in the past three weeks, and they have come the way his pre-draft profile suggested they would: Via big plays. A whopping 54 percent of Penny’s gains since Week 14 have come on carries of 20-plus yards. That is far and away the most in the league. That might not strike you as a sustainable recipe, but it’s a skill few running backs have. Penny himself did not have it for 2018-20 as he battled nonstop injury. Producing at just the right time for this besieged backfield, Penny is headed to free agency at just the right time for a player who might have literally had no market a month ago. Teams still won’t be breaking down the door, but guaranteed money is now a real possibility.

Don't forget, for the latest on everything NFL, check out NBC Sports EDGE’s Player News, or follow @NBCSEdgeFB or @RotoPat on Twitter.

Five Week 16 Storylines

Seahawks get two-pointed by the Bears. How many times can an era end? That’s the question the Seahawks are asking after their latest no-show, this one a 25-24 home loss to a team on its third quarterback. The circumstances of the loss were bad enough, but it was the manner in which it happened that was most disturbing. The defense was actually fine. It held Nick Foles to 250 yards and one touchdown on 35 attempts and limited Chicago’s backfield to under three yards per carry on 30 rushes. Seattle’s run game also did its job, with Rashaad Penny continuing to provide chunk amidst his latest of blooms. It was Russell Wilson and the passing attack where the wheels once again fell off. After targeting recent practice squad promotee Thomas Graham on DK Metcalf’s 41-yard touchdown six minutes into the game, Wilson never again found a wide receiver for a gain of more than 15 yards. How Wilson manages to keep disappearing with Metcalf and Tyler Lockett at his disposal is one of the season’s great mysteries, but just the latest sign of a tired player and broken marriage. Reset, either via trade or coaching change, remains the only realistic ending.

Speaking of eras ending, the Steelers cannot go on like this. We live in unprecedented times. Tom Brady is contending for Super Bowls at age 44. Aaron Rodgers is stacking up MVPs at age 38. Ben Roethlisberger is … looking 39. That is not to ignore the fact that Big Ben aged better than most. But aged he is, aged to the point that his offense has become unwatchable. Drew Brees and Philip Rivers knew when to fold them. Roethlisberger’s 2020 said out loud that he should, too, but he placed one more bet on his Hall-of-Fame ability. It went bust. After pursuing a half measure and making Roethlisberger take a pay cut before bringing him back for 2021, the Steelers must finally go all the way in 2022.

Isaiah McKenzie out Cole Beasley-s Cole Beasley. Filling in for the Bills’ COVID-positive slot man, McKenzie matched Beasley's season high for catches, matched his 2021 touchdown total, and provided 15 more yards than Beasley had in any game this year (I took this wording directly from my blurb). Beasley is an upper-echelon slot receiver, but McKenzie brings another gear, one the Bills sometimes seem loath to unleash because of McKenzie’s pint size. That might be the only reason McKenzie had not been featured sooner, as he has always impressed when given the opportunity. Although Beasley is unvaccinated, he will clear the NFL’s 10-day COVID threshold before Week 17 against the Falcons, likely returning himself to the lineup. We would like to believe McKenzie will maintain a robust role, but it is not the most likely outcome.

Even against the Jets, Trevor Lawrence’s rookie season remains in go-nowhere mode. Lawrence now has one touchdown in eight games since Halloween. We know there have been a plethora of injuries and one loud coaching change mixed in there, but that is a disturbing lack of production for a quarterback taken No. 1 overall. The only saving grace might be that, despite his lack of scores, Lawrence is at least avoiding the hail of turnovers that frequently accompany rookie signal callers. Perhaps this really is as simple as he had the league’s worst coaching staff and few healthy weapons. You would just hope an elite talent could occasionally rise above his bad circumstances. Lawrence’s career hinges on the coaching decision the Jags will make in January.

Even against the Chargers, Davis Mills rookie season remains intriguing. On the other side of the Lawrence coin is Mills, who ripped the Chargers for 254/2. The Bolts’ defense is, how you say, “down bad” of late, but that is the sort of thing a rookie signal caller missing his No. 1 wideout in Brandin Cooks is supposed to solve. Instead, Mills made do with the weapons he had and provided multiple scores for the third time in his past four starts. Mills’ recent production has come against soft opponents, but he has also put ambushes of the Rams and Patriots on his rookie résumé. Plus, the schedule doesn’t usually matter when you are a third-round rookie. You’re the soft spot, not vice versa. The fact that Mills is having any good games while Lawrence and Zach Wilson have few, if any, continues to stick out like a sore thumb.

Questions

1. Has the Football Team considered … anything but the way it has existed for the past two decades?

2. Have the Chargers considered … anything but the way they have existed for the past two decades?

3. So how exactly did the 49ers lose twice to the Seahawks?

Early Waivers Look (Players rostered in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)

QB: Taysom Hill (vs. CAR), Jimmy Garoppolo (vs. HOU), Justin Fields (vs. NYG), Tua Tagovailoa (@TEN), Jared Goff (@SEA), Ben Roethlisberger (vs. CLE)
RB: Boston Scott, Rex Burkhead, Dare Ogunbowale, Duke Johnson, Jordan Howard, Tevin Coleman, Mark Ingram, Jaret Patterson, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Kenneth Gainwell
WR: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Laquon Treadwell, K.J. Osborn, Nico Collins, Isaiah McKenzie, Allen Lazard, Robby Anderson, Tavon Austin, Rashod Bateman, Braxton Berrios, Antoine Wesley
TE: Gerald Everett, Cole Kmet, Tyler Conklin, Foster Moreau, C.J. Uzomah, Evan Engram, James O’Shaughnessy, Brevin Jordan
DEF: Bears (vs. NYG), Panthers (@NO), Browns (@PIT), Steelers (vs. CLE), Giants (@CHI)

Stats of the Week

Via The Good Lord Reebs: “The Giants are still the only team in the NFL this season with more field goals (28) than offensive touchdowns (22).”

Via Field Yates: “The Bengals are the first team in NFL history to have a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 2 1,000-yard receivers all 25 or younger in the same season.”

By that same token, the Bengals are the first team in NFL history to have a pair of 1,000-yard receivers both under the age of 23. Mercy.

Aaron Rodgers has 15 interceptions on 2,167 attempts since the start of the 2018 season.

As Field Gulls points out, Russell Wilson is 0-for-5 on converting potential game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime this year. Things ain’t like they used to be.

The Steelers have gone without a touchdown in five straight first halves. Seems hard to do.

Awards Section

Week 16 Fantasy All-Pro Team: QB Joe Burrow, RB Justin Jackson, RB Joe Mixon, WR Tee Higgins, WR Davante Adams, WR A.J. Brown, TE Mark Andrews

Tweet of the Week, from Tyler Strong: Davis Mills is like if Mike Glennon got bit by a radioactive spider.

Tweet of the Week II, from David Bearman: A Darnold/Newton platoon seems like a bad dream that someone wanted to check out.

The If That’s What It Takes Award: Matt Nagy finally being the coach to convert the John Harbaugh two-point conversion.

Quote of the Week, from Joe Judge: “The special teams gave us some field position today.”