Joe Burrow’s resilience leads the Bengals to the Super Bowl, and perhaps loftier heights, Jimmy Garoppolo’s trade market, and much more
This past weekend, in more ways than one, we all witnessed a changing of the guard in the NFL.
“I’ll tell you this,” a Super Bowl-winning NFL personnel executive tells FanSided. “At his age, Joe Burrow is better than Tom Brady because of his foot quickness and athleticism. He’s a better athlete today than Tom Brady ever was.”
While that might sound like a stretch, at age 25 for Burrow to already be better than the greatest quarterback to play the game, his ceiling just might be approaching the summit Brady reached in his career that came to an end with his retirement announcement Tuesday.
From Brady to Burrow, from New England and Tampa Bay to Cincinnati, Ohio, of all places, as Burrow’s Bengals dispelled Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs to clinch the franchise’s second Super Bowl berth, Brady was readying his retirement announcement in the NFL.
Sunday afternoon, Burrow walked into the visiting locker room inside Arrowhead Stadium with his Bengals trailing 20-7 at halftime. But, much like the careers Brady, Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, and legends like Peyton Manning and Joe Montana before them, Cincinnati was never out of it because of the calm, cool, and collected cerebral quarterback they have under center.
At one point, the Bengals trailed 21-3
Staring down elimination and in the face of the adversity of a 13-point deficit in the most hostile arena in professional sports, Burrow orchestrated a comeback for the ages, passing for 150 yards and a touchdown in the second half and overtime.
“I’ll tell you this, at his age, Joe Burrow is better than Tom Brady”
– Super Bowl-winning NFL executive
Following a Mahomes interception, Burrow completed both of his passes to put Bengals rookie kicker Evan McPherson in position to kick a 31-yard game-winner to silence the noise, in not dissimilar fashion to Adam Viniateri’s legendary 45-yard field goal through the Foxboro snow that launched Brady and the Patriots onto arguably the greatest dynasty in American sports.
Brady and Burrow’s path to becoming the face of the NFL is a similar one.
While Brady was the unheralded sixth-round draft pick who went on to become one of the greatest to ever play a team sport, and Burrow was chosen No. 1 overall to resurrect a Bengals franchise that had been an NFL doormat for decades, Cincinnati now has all the pieces in place and most importantly the quarterback to rise to heights previously unseen in the 513.
But, not unlike Brady falling to the sixth-round, after an unheralded career at the University of Michigan, Burrow rode the bench at Ohio State before transferring to LSU where alongside elite wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase, he saw immediate success and ultimately delivered a National Championship to the Bayou.
“To fit in right away [at LSU], take over, and win a national championship,” the executive says of Burrow’s track. “He’s got something inside of him that’s really, really cool.”
Burrow’s performance this postseason has been Brady-like, orchestrating the largest comeback in AFC Championship Game history, leading fourth quarter comebacks on the road against the AFC’s No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in his first trip to the postseason and just 14 months from tearing his ACL and MCL.
“To come back from that as quick as he did, and function at the level he did,” the executive says of Burrow. “It tells you something special about his makeup. That’s just so cool. He’s one tough hombre.”
Brady’s first postseason run with the New England Patriots featured his first two of 14 game-winning drives. Burrow has collected two postseason comebacks of his own already, with the Super Bowl yet to be played.
Back in January 2002, at the dawn of the Patriots’ dynasty, Brady outdueled future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner and his Greatest Show on Turf Rams to hoist his first Lombardi Trophy. Sunday, it was Mahomes and arguably the most explosive offense assembled in the past two decades that Burrow dispatched en route to his first Super Bowl berth.
The similarities don’t end there, rather, that is where this thread line only begins.
“Joe Burrow is great at all of the things we can’t measure when it comes to evaluating a quarterback,” renowned quarterback coach Quincy Avery tells FanSided. “Every time he steps into a game, he makes the right decisions, he gets the ball where it needs to be on time, he has elite anticipation, and he has really good spatial awareness so he’s always able to put the ball in exactly the right spot.”
There might not be a more cerebral player over the past two decades than Brady, but Burrow has already offered a glimpse of those same traits in his first 26 career games.
“From an intelligence standpoint,” the executive says. “It will play itself out whether Joe can reach that level. From a toughness standpoint and leadership standpoint, that will play itself out. But, as of right now, Joe’s a heck of an athlete, which Tom never was.”
Entering Sunday’s conference championship games, only Brady and Rodgers had a higher rating from PFF than Burrow’s 85.8 on dropbacks when the game was within one score this season. And Burrow’s 82.4 mark in the fourth quarter and overtime trailed only Matthew Stafford, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert.
“The way he’s playing is truly special,” Avery says. “He isn’t overpowering you with how he throws the football, he’s playing above the neck at the highest level.”
In his second NFL season, Burrow completed 70.4 percent of his passes for 4,611 yards with 34 touchdowns to just 14 interceptions, all while playing behind a patchwork offensive line that caused him to withstand 51 sacks.
For most quarterbacks, it would be categorically unfair to mention their name in the same breath as a Brady, or a Montana, but given his talent, acumen, and the fact that his head coach, Zac Taylor, is one of the NFL’s brightest offensive minds and his synergy with elite rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase that dates back to their time together at LSU is already in absolute lockstep, Burrow might be better positioned than anyone to become the new face of the NFL and its most decorated star for years to come.
“He has really good receivers, a really good back, but he doesn’t have a good offensive line at all,” Avery points out. “But, his ability to process information is what has helped him so much. He understands where to get the ball, even in a game where he took a ton of sacks because of free pressure, he still got the ball on time where it needed to be. That’s special.”
Setting Jimmy Garoppolo’s trade market
Tom Brady’s retirement not only capped one of the most successful careers in American professional sports, but it also was the first domino to fall in what promises to be an unprecedented quarterback market this offseason.
Jimmy Garoppolo, fresh off passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns, giving the San Francisco 49ers a 20-7 lead entering the fourth quarter of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams, is expected to be one of the more sought after quarterbacks despite tossing a back-breaking interception with 1:09 remaining that allowed Robbie Gould to kick the Niners into the Super Bowl.
One current personnel director tells FanSided the expectation inside the league is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Denver Broncos are expected to make a strong push to trade for Garoppolo.
Following Brady and Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, adding a veteran presence like Garoppolo as a bridge to a quarterback yet to be drafted just might be the kind of move to keep the Buccaneers near the top of the NFC playoff picture and the Steelers a force in the AFC North.
Sunday night inside SoFi Stadium, the site of this year’s Super Bowl, is likely Garoppolo’s last in a 49ers uniform. After San Francisco traded up to select Trey Lance with the No. 3 overall pick in last spring’s NFL Draft, Garoppolo needed to do significantly more than pass for 3,810 yards with 20 touchdowns to 12 interceptions to have any long-term future in Santa Clara.
But, with veterans like Derek Carr, perhaps even Russell Wilson, or Rodgers available, what might Garoppolo fetch the Niners in a trade?
“I’d think the Niners could realistically get a second-round pick plus at least a player,” an AFC personnel director of a team not in the quarterback market tells FanSided on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about another team. “But, I do think his market could expand once teams get one look at this year’s quarterback class. He’s probably better than anyone from this class or 2023.
“If they’re trying to get a first-rounder, good luck, they aren’t getting close to that for a bridge quarterback, which is what he is.”
Not everyone is convinced.
“He’s got a good win-loss record, but he’s not dynamic,” a former general manager tells FanSided. “He’s Matt Hasselbeck. He’s going to be smart, he’s going to do the right stuff, but he’s just not a really talented arm or good athlete and he’s not going to make some plays.”
One former general manager suggests San Francisco may need to settle for far less, because every other team understands not only Garoppolo’s limitations but that the 49ers have sights set on turning the reins over to Lance.
“Teams aren’t going to be thinking ‘Hey, I have to go get this guy,'” the GM explains. “The 49ers, and John Lynch are going to look around and say ‘hey, we’ve got no leverage, let’s go,’ so I think there’s a chance they’ll have to settle on a No. 3 or No. 4 [pick], unless they somehow drum up a bidding war and get several teams in on the action.”
One major domino has fallen. Rodgers’ future in Green Bay — and the NFL — will be another, but regardless of San Francisco’s situation, Garoppolo has the potential to be a hot commodity, especially among teams on the cusp of competing.
"“A Super Bowl is all he needs, he could walk off into the sunset, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen for him.”"
– Rams Edge Rusher Von Miller on Aaron Donald, via ESPN
Donald might be the most gifted player in the NFL, and now has the opportunity to add the crown jewel onto his career, an elusive first Super Bowl ring.
From the moment the Rams traded for quarterback Matthew Stafford this summer, general manager Les Snead has been all-in on delivering a championship to Los Angeles. Snead pried Miller away from the Broncos at the trade deadline and signed Odell Beckham Jr. for a second-half run that puts Donald’s quest for a Lombardi Trophy now in hits final 60 minutes.
Miller’s presence off the edge has allowed Donald to be even more disruptive this season, producing a 92.7 pass-rush grade from Pro Football Focus, along with 86 total pressures, 15 sacks, and 10 quarterback hurries.
In their home stadium, where they’ll be the away team, by the way, the Rams enter as four-point favorites, via WynnBET over the Bengals. Donald might be the most important player when it comes to neutralizing Burrow and Cincinnati’s high-flying offense.
But, with a motivated Miller alongside him, the Rams’ defense just might be up to that daunting challenge.
Andy Reid blew it.
Reid, whose Chiefs were playing for a third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl, and Reid’s fourth as a head coach, Sunday afternoon instead fell to Burrow’s Bengals and handed Kansas City’s head coach his sixth loss in eight trips to the Conference Championship Game.
Sunday dropped Reid to 3-6 lifetime in conference title games.
Through earned arrogance or fatally flawed strategy, the Chiefs came up woefully small in the biggest game of their season.
Never was this more apparent than Reid’s decision to go for it, on a pass play that wasn’t thrown into the end zone, rather than extend the Chiefs’ lead over the Bengals to 24-10 at halftime before getting the ball back to start the second half.
Reid’s decision not to take the points, and to drop Patrick Mahomes back 15 times in the second half, and running the ball only 12 times despite a double-digit lead, harkened back to Reid’s missed opportunities during his time as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles where his reluctance to run the football cost him and the Eagles dearly.
The Eagles were favored against the Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers at home, and the Arizona Cardinals on the road but lost each of those NFC Championship Games. Sunday, the Chiefs entered as a touchdown favorite but lost an 18-point lead evaporate into the Missouri air against Burrow’s Bengals.
There is no doubt that Reid is a future Hall of Famer, especially after the Chiefs knocked off the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, and one of the greatest coaches of his era.
However, given the embarrassment of riches the Chiefs’ offense possesses; Mahomes, wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman, and future Hall of Fame tight end Travis Kelce, how many titles might Vince Lombardi, Bill Belichick, or Chuck Noll won?
Reid had a very real opportunity to etch his name alongside Lombardi, Belichick, and Noll on the NFL’s Mount Rushmore of coaches, but let it slip through his grasp against the Bengals.