NASHVILLE – Who could forget that the Tennessee Titans sacked Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow nine times when they met last season in the divisional round of the playoffs?
Not Burrow, who absorbed all of those hits. Not Jeffery Simmons, who had three of them, or the other six members of the Titans’ defense who combined for the remaining six sacks. Not the fans inside Nissan Stadium who witnessed one of the most dominant performances in recent NFL playoff history.
When Shane Bowen, Tennessee’s defensive coordinator, thinks back, though, he recalls the other 37 times that Burrow dropped back and actually got a throw away. Burrow completed 28 of them for 348 yards and 13 of his team’s 17 first downs.
And that is what has been foremost among Bowen’s thoughts this week as he has prepared for Sunday’s game between the Titans (7-3) and Bengals (6-4).
“We have to find ways to affect him,” Bowen said. “We’ll see how the sacks go, but we have to find ways to affect him. He’s a top-tier quarterback in this league, and he’s playing at an extremely high level right now. It’s going to be a big-time challenge for us come Sunday.”
Burrow was one of only three quarterbacks who attempted more than 30 passes and completed more than 75 percent of them last postseason. The others to do it were Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes.
Coming into this contest, he is one of five NFL quarterbacks who have completed more than 60 percent of his throws this season. And he has thrown it more often than any of the other four. Before last week against Pittsburgh, he had a four-game streak with better than a 70 percent completion rate. His 481 passing yards against Atlanta last month are the most by any quarterback in a game thus far in 2022.
"I think we're playing as good as anybody," Burrow said following the latest victory. "We're hitting our stride offensively. We still left some points out there. There's always room to improve, obviously. But the last couple of weeks … we've been pretty lights out."
Their protection of Burrow has gotten better as the year progressed as well. He has been sacked at least once in every game this season. Opponents got to him 13 times in the first two weeks, 19 times since. Only Chicago’s Justin Fields (40 times) and Daniel Jones of the New York Giants (33 times) have been sacked more often.
Burrow is one of five quarterbacks to have been sacked seven times or more in a game this season. But he is also the only one who has thrown for 300 yards and multiple touchdowns in a game when that has happened.
In other words, he continues to prove that getting taken down – even a large number of times – does not necessarily slow down him and the Bengals’ passing game.
“Joe Burrow, man, he might not be the guy that always is mentioned with Mahomes or Josh Allen,” Titans safety Kevin Byard said, “but he’s definitely right up there as one of the best quarterbacks in the league.”
So, the Titans will be all right if he stays upright more often this time. Just as long as he is not comfortable while he is.