NFL Week 1 review: Joe Burrow didn't look like a rookie and there's a good reason why

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Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) is hit by Los Angeles Chargers' Jerry Tillery.
Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow had his ups and downs in his NFL debut, this sack by Chargers defensive tackle Jerry Tillery being one of the downs. (Bryan Woolston / Associated Press)

The quarterback guru who helped fine-tune Joe Burrow’s game heading into the NFL wasn’t surprised that the No. 1 pick looked solid in his debut Sunday for the Cincinnati Bengals.

No preseason games? No big problem for Burrow.

“The two things about Joe are confidence and maturity,” said quarterbacks coach Jordan Palmer, who worked extensively with the Heisman Trophy winner for four months before the draft. “That’s where my eye goes when I’m evaluating these young guys. And maturity is not tucking your shirt in and saying, 'Yes, sir,’ and being on time. Maturity is being in a situation you’ve never been in before, and whether you’re dwelling on other people’s experiences, or just belief in yourself, you end up handling that new situation as if it’s not the first time.”

The Chargers won, 16-13, but Burrow hardly looked like a guy playing in his first NFL game. He checked into a keeper at the line of scrimmage and tore through a top-shelf defense for a 23-yard scoring run, Cincinnati’s only touchdown, and nearly led his team to victory in the fourth quarter.

In the final three minutes, with no timeouts, Burrow drove the Bengals from their 18 to the visitor’s three before throwing the apparent winning touchdown pass to A.J. Green. That was nullified by offensive pass interference, and on the next play, Randy Bullock missed a 31-yard field goal that would have forced overtime.

The performance wasn’t a masterpiece. Burrow had an errant shovel pass that was picked off, overthrew John Ross on a would-be touchdown, and harshly gave himself a "D" for his debut. But he gave Bengals fans reason for hope.

Burrow looked so at ease, Palmer said, “that if he was wearing No. 14, you would have thought Andy Dalton was playing.”

Coincidentally, the previous quarterback selected No. 1 by the Bengals was Carson Palmer — Jordan’s older brother — who won the Heisman at USC in 2002.

They are completely different quarterbacks. The 6-foot-5 Palmer was so prototypical, it was as if scientists created him in a lab, and had an arm strong enough to fire passes through drywall. Burrow, an inch shorter, has a more mortal skill set but is cool under fire, supremely confident, and put up otherworldly numbers at Louisiana State last season — 60 passing touchdowns, breaking the single-season FBS record, and 5,671 yards.

Jordan Palmer, who played quarterback at Texas-El Paso, is now the go-to quarterback whisperer, having prepared some of the best transitioning college talent — from Patrick Mahomes and Sam Darnold to Deshaun Watson and Josh Allen.

From January to April — with training sessions disrupted by the COVID pandemic — Burrow lived in a beach house in Dana Point and trained daily with Palmer.

“I’m not surprised at all with the way Joe played [Sunday] because of the belief that he has in himself,” Palmer said. “If he tells himself that the speed of the game isn’t any different, then he’s not going to feel it as any different. He just has such control over his thoughts and his actions and his reads.

“People make a big deal of him being a captain as a rookie. That was absolutely inevitable. He’s the best leader they have on that team, and I don’t care who’s on that team. … He’s going to have a fantastic NFL career.”

Rookie starters

It used to be that rookie quarterbacks, even first-rounders, learned at the elbow of a veteran before taking over an offense. There was a seismic shift in 2008, when rookies Matt Ryan (Atlanta) and Joe Flacco (Baltimore) were instant starters and each led his team to the playoffs.

For each of the past 13 seasons, at least one rookie quarterback has been a Week 1 starter. That’s the longest streak since at least 1950.

Red Zone

There are two quarterbacks of a different sort who both had good days Sunday, despite significant coronavirus restrictions.

Andrew Siciliano and Scott Hanson, the seasoned hosts of competing red-zone channels, were in midseason form even though they were working with skeleton crews in studio and didn’t have the benefit of preseason games for rehearsals.

Siciliano is the original, in his 16th year hosting DirecTV’s Red Zone Channel, and Hanson is in his 12th year as host of "NFL RedZone." The two are friends and onetime classmates at Syracuse.

The frenetic shows, must-watch TV for fantasy football owners, whirl around the league and — in real time — curate the most exciting and interesting moments of the day games. They show two, three, even four screens at once, with no punts and no commercials.

It’s usually a huge production, but Siciliano said he was operating with about half as many people on stage and in the control room. He and the crew, who have worked together for years, relied on muscle memory to power through the day.

“It was kind of like we were doing the show with one arm tied behind our back, collectively,” he said. “But they were great in getting as much information as they could to me.”

The frantic, no-time-to-take-a-breath nature of the assignment, Hanson said, is a bit like an action movie.

“I equate the job to Indiana Jones running across a suspension bridge, and the enemy has cut one side of it loose and the bridge is collapsing behind him,” he told The Times last year. “You can’t slow down. You can’t stop. You can’t turn your head back and wonder what’s going on back there. Because if you stop for a moment, you’re lost. It is constant action going forward. You have to keep it going no matter what. And it’s like that for seven hours.”

Rally caps

Six teams came back to win Sunday after trailing in the fourth quarter: Arizona, Jacksonville, Chicago, Washington, Las Vegas and the Chargers.

SoFi a breeze

The halo-shaped videoboard steals the show at SoFi Stadium — its bright and crisp picture is mesmerizing — but an underrated feature of the $5-billion venue is the open sides and prevailing breezes that circulate through the building.

Old hat

When Brady, 43, and New Orleans’ Drew Brees, 41, squared off Sunday, it marked the first time both starting quarterbacks were 40 or older.

Jackson mania

Guess teams aren’t going to figure out Lamar Jackson anytime soon. Cleveland certainly didn’t. The Baltimore quarterback and defending league MVP threw for 275 yards with three touchdowns and a 152.1 passer rating in a 38-6 rout of the Browns. It was third time Jackson has had at least three touchdown passes and a rating of 150 — the most by any quarterback in his first three seasons.


No one can carry a team the way Russell Wilson does. The Seattle quarterback was 31 for 35 for 322 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-25 win at Atlanta. His completion rate of 88.6% is tied for the third best in NFL history (minimum 35 attempts).

Just Vegas, baby

Las Vegas Raiders still sounds bizarre.