Joe Burrow started the season on a tear. Despite not having the greatest team around him he instantly elevated the quality of the Bengals play. He looked every bit the franchise Quarterback that Cincinnati fans hoped he would be. A hope that had persisted since he was drafted with the Number one selection.
His stats do not show this perhaps. He had a Quarterback Rating that only snuck over 70 three times and bottomed out at 5.6. This is almost entirely on the fact that the O line in front of him was shocking. Their performances in games against teams like the Ravens (7 sacks allowed) and the Eagles (8 sacks) were a for-warning of what was to come.
In a game against the Redskins, a team with a ferocious front four, the worst happened. Burrow was hit by a rush from the left hand side of his line and Chase Young flattened him. Initially it looked bad, Burrow stayed down and was carted form the field. He knew his season was done and was heard to say “See ya next year” as he departed the field.
Burrow was right, tearing his ACL and PCL and partially tearing his PCL and Meniscus meant he had a long recovery ahead of him.
Positives and Recovery
There are many reasons to be positive , this injury should not adversely affect the career that had started so brightly.
Burrow is young, only turning 24 in December last year. His body is primed to recover as well as it can do. With the team that he will have around him he will get the best care and recuperation. Expect to see him back in some form for Training Camp and I would be surprised if he missed much, if any of next season.
There is of course the risk of complications. Jerick McKinnon can attest to those, as can Alex Smith. Smith’s injury was so devastating I won’t compare it in this article, it is a beast all of it’s own. McKinnon tore his ACL in his first pre-season following his big money move from the Vikings to the 49ers. It took him just over 2 years to fully recover due to setbacks he suffered.
I would expect that Burrow will receive the kid gloves approach and he won’t be rushed back. Although all Bengals fans want him back, long-term must be the consideration over short-term.
With this in mind I will look back at Quarterbacks who have had various levels of return from knee injuries and what Joe Burrow can expect.
Those With No Evident Lasting Effects
Deshaun Watson (2017)
Watson came into the league and looked every part the franchise QB that Houston hoped for. In seven games as a rookie he set the league alight. He then tore his ACL in a practice during November 2017 and that was that for the year.
He rehabbed and recovered over the following 9 months and returned for the Texans to start the 2018 season. In fact he was present on the field for the start of OTA’s in May and then was involved for Training Camp in a full capacity.
It is safe to say that his recovery went well and what we have seen since the injury is a player who has not been slowed down by the injury. He has developed into the hottest commodity in the league currently and appears set to have a stellar career for a long time to come.
It should be noted this was his second ACL tear after he suffered the same injury during his days at Clemson. They are certainly not the career ending injury that they once used to be.
Tom Brady (2008)
The 2008 season lasted less than 15 minutes for Tom Brady. He sat out the rest of the season however did return in time to start the 2009 season where he proceeded to put up 4,398 yards with 28 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. The knee injury did not appear to have any lingering effects.
Since then we have seen the greatest to ever play the game continue to be just that. He had the injury at aged 30 and has suffered no ill effects from it whatsoever. Whether any of this can be attributed to his strict regime for keeping himself in fantastic shape I cannot say but if Joe Burrow wants a model of what to do to recover he could do worse that speak with Brady.
Carson Palmer (2005 and 2014)
Also with the Bengals, Palmer’s first injury in 2005 was considered career threatening. Palmer tore his ACL and also tore his MCL and had damage to his meniscus and cartilage. Despite this he was back for the start of the 2006 season playing all 16 games of the regular season. He racked up 4,035 yards with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
His second injury came days after singing a 3 year deal with the Cardinals in 2014. Again sitting out the whole season, he returned triumphantly in 2015 with possible his best season. 4,671 yards, 35 touchdowns with 11 interceptions for a QBR of 104.6 evidenced no ill effects from his second injury.
Those With Some Lasting Effects
Teddy Bridgewater (2016)
Bridgewater was supposed to be the next big thing in Minnesota when he suffered the gruesome injury during a practice session at the start of the 2016 season. He tore his ACL and did other damage to the knee as well, this additional damage extended his recovery time than would have been typical from merely an ACL tear.
After a long time out Bridgewater made his return in relief of Case Keenum in Week 15 of the 2017 season against the Bengals. By this time his fifth year option had been declined but it was just a relief to see Bridgewater back on a football field. Although he threw an interception on one of his two attempted passes the Vikings ran out 34-7 winners against the Jets.
Bridgewater signed a 1 year dealwith the Jets the following season however he was traded to the Saints in pre-season. He spent the next two years with the Saints backing up Drew Brees. In that time he returned to meaningful game action and engineered a 5-0 record when Brees wen tdown in the 2019 seasoon.
This resulted in a 3 year $63m contract with the Panthers for the 202 season and he was their full time starter. Whilst he has not reached the heights that were expected when he was at the Vikings he is now a serviceable mid-tier starting Quarterback in the NFL.
Donovan McNabb (2006)
McNabb was a mobile Quarterback who ran for 6.6 yards per carry in the 10 games he played in 2006. he tore his ACL in Week 11 but was back in time for the Eagles season opener in 2017.
Whilst his passing numbers did not show much in the way of regression his rushing efficacy was definitely reduced. In the 2017 season he only managed 4.7 yards per carry. 2008 and 2009 again saw this fall as both seasons he only registered 3.8 yards per carry.
There was some improvement for his final two seasons, both coming following his leaving Philadelphia. He never reached the 6 yards per carry again however and when you consider pre-ACL it is hard not to feel part of his game was permanently affected by the tear.
A Career Ruined
Robert Griffen III (2012)
We all know the story.
A phenom coming our of Baylor in the 2012, Griffen took the league by storm in his rookie season. He achieved a passer rating of 102.4 which was a record for a rookie QB. Prior to his ACL tear Griffen seemed to be the next big thing in the NFL, albeit one who relied heavily on his mobility.
Fast forward to 2017 and he was not on an NFL team. He never fully recovered from his injury and was replaced by Kirk Cousins for the final 3 games of the 2013 season. Griffen returned in 2014 but again missed time due to a dislocated ankle. By the 2015 season he was the 3rd string QB behind Cousins and Colt McCoy.
Griffen was formally release by Washington in March 2016 and was picked up by the Browns. only lasted 5 games with them before heading to injured reserve with a dislocated shoulder and did not return for the remainder of the season. He was released in March 2017 and did not find another team that year.
Come March 2019 Griffen resurfaced as the Ravens backup QB to Lamar Jackson. He did managed to re-establish himself as an NFL player in his relief work for Jackson. What was missing was the rookie magic that we saw in 2012. Griffen was released by the Ravens in January 2021 and is currently without a team. Just imagine what could have been……
What Lies Ahead For Burrow And The Bengals
There is evidence that any kind of recovery is possible. Bengals fans will be hoping for the Brady recovery rather than the Griffen story. There is no reason to think that, with the right care, Burrow can not make a full recovery himself.
Burrow is not known for his rushing ability, never getting over 4 yards per carry in a season. He does make useful plays with his legs however and we shall see whether these remain upon his return. I have faith though that we shall see him back firing on all cylinders for the 2021 season.
The league will be a better place with Joe Burrow at 100% for his career. After working so hard, it would be a shame if his flame was to burn so bright only briefly.
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