INGLEWOOD, Calif. — He half-trotted, half-limped onto the field. Honestly, what more can you ask for in this line of work? There were 85 seconds left in Super Bowl LVI. Joe Burrow’s team, the Cincinnati Bengals, trailed by three points after leading for so much of the second half. There were 70,048 people inside SoFi Stadium. They all wondered the same thing.
Would this be Joe Burrow’s Montana Moment?
Would he borrow Brady’s Brilliance?
Could he figure out a way to get a game-tying field goal? Could he take them the whole 75 yards, write the fairytale that way? Could he be at his very best at the most important moment of the season, as the great ones do? There was one person inside this palace hard by the old Fabulous Forum who certainly believed anything was possible.
“I definitely believed,” Burrow said. “I couldn’t wait to take the field.”
“He does it week in and week out,” receiver Tyler Boyd said. “We felt comfortable that we would see him do it again. We always feel that way.”
He’d been here before, after all. He’d brought the Bengals all the back from 21-3 down against the Chiefs just two weeks ago, when half of America had already turned the game off and the other half — save for the Ohio-Kentucky border towns, anyway — stuck around just to see if Patrick Mahomes would hang half-a-hundred on them.
Two years ago he’d gone 15-0 at LSU, won a Heisman Trophy, then simply rolled over Clemson in the national championship game. We talk about athletes born to a moment. It sure seemed like Joe Burrow was born for a moment like this.
“I was ready,” he said. “We were all ready.”
Burrow had spent so much of the afternoon and the evening on his back, sacked a Super Bowl record seven times by a relentless Rams pass rush. Late in the game he’d fallen wrong on his knee, and in super-slow-mo you could see his eyes close, his face wince, his mouth form words that sure looked like “Oh, no!”
Get the latest updates from Super Bowl 2022 with live coverage from the New York Post.
But he’d trotted back in. He tried to engineer a clock-bleeding drive with the Bengals up 20-16 — the same score by which they’d lost Super Bowl XXIII 33 years earlier. He couldn’t kill it completely. He’d given the ball back to the Rams, back to Matthew Stafford, and Stafford had seized the moment. The Rams went up 23-20.
But he’d left the door open. He’d left Burrow 85 seconds, two timeouts. And Burrow got right to work: 17 yards to his favorite target and fellow LSU Tiger, Ja’Marr Chase. Then nine more to Tyler Boyd. The Bengals were already in Ram’s territory. The clock dipped under a minute. After an epic month of NFL playoffs it felt inevitable that, at worst, we would get a third overtime game.
And, at best, a championship-winning touchdown drive.
But here, a funny thing happened on the way to the Lombardi Trophy. Burrow tried to catch the Rams napping but couldn’t connect deep with Chase — a bit of an odd play-call, to be sure. Samaja Perine got his second carry of the day — a really curious choice — on second-and-1, was stopped for no gain.
Now it was fourth down, fourth-and-1, fourth-and-the season. Burrow still believed. The Who-Dey Nation cloaked in their orange and black that filled a huge chunk of the stadium believed. All he needed was a yard, then another first down, and Cincinnati’s other young folk hero, kicker Evan McPherson, would deliver them to overtime.
“To the end,” Burrow said, “I felt we were going to get this done.”
But one final time, the moment the ball was snapped it felt like the entirety of the Rams’ defense was surrounding him. Aaron Donald got his hands on Burrow, and Burrow was going down, and he did the only thing he could do: he flipped the ball away, in the general direction of Perine, but it wasn’t really close.
“You’re hoping for aa miracle,” he said.
No miracle. no championship. Burrow stood up, bowed his head, unbuckled his chin strap. On the first play of the second half he and Tee Higgins had hooked up on a 75-yard TD pass that stunned a crowd still reeling from a high-energy halftime show devoted to classic hip-hop. Whenever Burrow was able to stay on his feet he had a fine day: 22-for-33, 263 yards.
But he wound up sacked 19 times this postseason, another record. It felt like he was running for his life all across January and February. And finally ran out of time.
“We’re a young team,” Burrow said. ‘We’ll have other opportunities. We’ll still celebrate what we did this year.”
It just wasn’t the celebration they wanted, or the one Joe Burrow expected. Matthew Stafford took his happily ever after away from him.