One Ravens headache is gone, but there's another one coming on. Get your Tylenol ready.
Just when Ben Roethlisberger ended his 18-year legacy in Pittsburgh, Joe Burrow ended Cincinnati's 31-year playoff drought. There's a new problem on the Ravens' hands, and he sure does remind me a lot of the old problem.
Roethlisberger was a guy Ravens fans loved to hate. As former Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott so eloquently told me a couple weeks ago, "Ben has a very punchable face."
Especially in his earlier days, Roethlisberger had a kind of swagger and flair for the dramatic that got under your skin. The fact that he had a lot of success, including late-game comebacks, against the Ravens made it worse. He was a thorn in Baltimore's side – one that the Ravens frequently snipped, but also one that drew more than its fair share of blood.
It's only Year 2 for Burrow, but I'm getting similar vibes.
Burrow is cocky. I don't mean that as an insult, and I'm far from the first to think it. His own backup quarterback at LSU called him "cocky-confident." Media members noted it at the Combine before Burrow became the No. 1-overall pick. The Athletic's Bengals writer said "on the outside, it can look cocky" but "the line between cocky and confident is separated by the work."
An under-recruited college transfer, Burrow has long carried an Ohio-sized chip on his shoulder. He oozed I-told-you-so confidence when he smoked a cigar after winning the college national championship. In his third NFL game, after taking a big hit from an Eagles defender, Burrow apparently got up and told the guy, "When I’m the GOAT, I’m going to get that call."
When Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said "I don't think we're ready to buy a gold jacket for Joe," in reference to whether the Ravens would defend him the same way they did Aaron Rodgers, Burrow hung a record-setting 525 passing yards on Baltimore's injury-depleted defense, then grinned and said the comment motivated him to pour it on. After the Bengals won the AFC North, Burrow lit up another cigar in the postgame locker room celebration. It's become his thing, and his teammates love it.
Personally, I don't have a problem with a cocky quarterback. It makes this entertainment business more fun. It's also hard to argue that he shouldn't think he's hot stuff. Burrow has backed it up. He won it all at LSU and has turned around the "Bungles" in just two years. I think they have a legit chance at winning the Super Bowl this year as they enter Saturday's divisional playoff game against the AFC's top-seeded Titans.
Beyond that, I think the Bengals are going to be a problem for years to come in the AFC North because Burrow is just that good. He has a strong arm, he's tough, accurate, and throws with precision and anticipation. The bonanza of offensive playmakers he's surrounded by, including former LSU teammate Ja'Marr Chase, doesn't hurt.
Burrow's self-confidence will get him in trouble at times. His 14 interceptions this season were tied for the sixth-most in the league. The Ravens will have to take advantage moving forward. But his fearlessness will also lead to a lot of big plays that leave the Ravens shaking their heads. This throw is a good example of Burrow’s high risk-high reward gunslinging.
Roethlisberger ripped your heart out in a different way. His backyard style, relentless toughness and (later in his career) quick decisions confounded defenses, not the pureness of his passing. The Ravens defense often controlled the game before Roethlisberger would shake off a sack and throw a bomb as part of a fourth-quarter comeback. It often felt like he stole a victory from Baltimore.
Burrow seems more the type that's going to try to take a victory and embarrass you in the process. After all, he hung 941 yards, seven touchdowns and 82 points on the Ravens this season, and kept chucking to the end. "All the confidence and the smirking, he wants to take your freaking soul," Bengals Offensive Coordinator Brian Callahan said.
Burrow posted a 108.3 quarterback rating this season. Roethlisberger never had a QB rating that high. Burrow threw for 4,611 yards. Roethlisberger didn't top that until his 11th season and did it just twice. Also keep in mind, Burrow is coming off a torn ACL that short-circuited a record-setting rookie year. He's going to get more mobile and better.
Roethlisberger is a future Hall of Famer with two Super Bowls. So it's premature to say Burrow is in the same class. But I think Burrow is more talented and could very well end up being "better".
We'll see what happens during the rest of these playoffs, but it's up to the Ravens to try to stop Burrow from having as accomplished of a career as Roethlisberger is riding into the sunset with, especially directly against Baltimore. It should be fun to watch, and probably painful at times.