Nearly every time the Kansas City Chiefs got pressure on Joe Burrow in the AFC championship game, he managed to pull off a surprising escape.
That ability to get out of trouble with his legs is one of Burrow’s best traits and a big reason why he has the Cincinnati Bengals playing in the Super Bowl.
“That adds a whole other dimension to our offense,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said. “His ability to extend plays, go off-script, do anything that involves moving the pocket and moving the landmarks for the receivers and let those guys go create has generated a number of explosive plays and first downs over the course of the year. He’s got a great natural feel for moving in the pocket. It’s a huge part of playing quarterback in the NFL these days. Guys have to be able to do that. He does it as good as anybody else.”
Burrow was at his best in that during the AFC championship game win at Kansas City when he turned three sure sacks into third-down conversions with his legs, becoming the first player since Colin Kaepernick nine years ago to run for three first downs in a playoff game when a team needed at least 5 yards for a first down.
Burrow also converted on a third-and-1 run, becoming the fourth player at any position to convert at least four first downs with his legs in a playoff game in the past 10 seasons.
“He’s found a lot of different ways for us to win these games, and that’s part of the development of playing, is knowing how to play quarterback and doing whatever the game requires,” Callahan said. “He knew against Kansas City that he was going to have to run the ball a few times if they’re going to double guys and play some coverage structures where there were no eyes on the quarterback. He knew going into the game that would be a big part of it and it was.”
Burrow’s pocket movement is a big part of Cincinnati’s offense with his ability to extend plays helping receivers such as Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd get open downfield for explosive gains.
Burrow was tied for fifth in the NFL in the regular season with six TD passes thrown on the run, according to NFL NextGen stats and led the league with 10.7 yards per attempt when extending plays.
He’s increased the frequency of scrambling and running as the season has gone on as he becomes more confident in his left knee that underwent reconstructive surgery during his rookie season in 2020.
“It’s night and day from the first half of the season,” Burrow said. “I wasn’t really able to do any of that the first half. I’ve really started to come into my own in that in that sense, making plays, extending plays. That’s something I’ve always been able to do, and I’m starting to finally feel like myself and able to pull out of some of those tackles when defensive players have me wrapped up in the pocket and I’m starting to be able to get out of those situations and make some plays.”
Returning to the Los Angeles area for the biggest game of his young career seems appropriate for Burrow, who had his knee surgery done in Los Angeles in December 2020 by Rams team physician Neal ElAttrache.
Burrow spent plenty of time rehabbing in the area that he even watched the draft in April at the home of Andrew Whitworth, the former Bengals and current Rams left tackle.
All those hours spent working with Bengals rehabilitation director Nick Cosgray have paid off and now Burrow will have a much rewarding return trip to Southern California.
“It was a long and grueling process,” he said. “Nick really helped me get back to the player that I was before. I wouldn’t be having the season that I had without him and all the hard work that he put in.”
Coach Zac Taylor has seen the gradual progress since training camp when Burrow needed extra time off to deal with lingering soreness and the AFC title game when his Houdini-like evasion skills proved so important.
“I think it got more comfortable closer to the bye and we started to say, ‘OK, he looks like he’s back 100%,’” Taylor said. “It’s hard to ever guess how far along he is, but we could see his confidence growing and his movement skills and certainly this back half of the season he looks like the guy that played for us last year pre-injury.”