One of the main takeaways from the 2021 season has been Joe Burrow establishing himself as one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. In just his second season and first fully healthy campaign, the Bengals signal-caller was able to lift Cincinnati from a last-place finish the previous year to a division title and Super Bowl appearance. He did all that while also leading the league in completion percentage and yards per attempt.
So, even in the aftermath of the Bengals falling to the Rams in Super Bowl LVI, there should be optimism around the organization that they are on the right track with Burrow slotted in as the franchise cornerstone for the foreseeable future. Getting back to a Super Bowl, however, may be easier said than done.
After Sunday’s loss, Burrow became the 34th starting quarterback to lose in his Super Bowl debut. Of those previous 33 quarterbacks, only six have been able to get back to the big game in their careers. Bills legend Jim Kelly was the most recent to lose in his debut (Super Bowl XXV) and then eventually return to the Super Bowl, while the others are John Elway, Bob Griese, Len Dawson, Craig Morton, and Fran Tarkenton.
That history doesn’t look too kind toward Burrow’s chances going forward, although it’s not impossible for him to one day hoist a Lombardi Trophy. Out of those six players, half (Elway, Griese, and Dawson) were able to win the Super Bowl later in their careers following that initial loss. Morton also has a Super Bowl ring, but that came as a backup to Roger Staubach in Super Bowl VI.
Simply put, getting to the Super Bowl is extremely difficult. Even when you look at the 30 starting quarterbacks who won in their debuts, just 15 of them returned to the Super Bowl at some point in their careers, essentially making it a coin flip.
For Burrow to buck the trend and one day find himself again battling for a Super Bowl ring, one of the more pressing needs for Cincinnati should be to protect him upfront. Between the regular season and playoffs combined, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick was sacked an astonishing 70 times. If that continues, it’ll be hard to envision a scenario where Burrow joins the small group headlined by John Elway to overcome an initial Super Bowl defeat.