Joe Burrow isn’t sure if he’ll play Monday night as the Bengals hope to avoid a 0-3 start

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CINCINNATI (AP) — As Joe Burrow goes, so go the Bengals. And neither is in a good place right now.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) participates in a drill during the NFL football team's training camp, Thursday, July 27, 2023, in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) participates in a drill during the NFL football team’s training camp, Thursday, July 27, 2023, in Cincinnati. Burrow was back at practice on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023, more than a month after he was sidelined by strained right calf muscle. [Jeff Dean | AP]
The Pro Bowl quarterback is day to day with the lingering effects of a right calf strain suffered early in training camp. He didn’t practice Thursday and doesn’t know if he’ll be able to go when the Bengals host the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night.

If he can’t, backup Jake Browning — a former practice squad QB who had his first and only NFL pass attempt in Week 1 — will get the nod. He won the job in training camp.

“You have to be ready, and Browning is an excellent capable backup, as well,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “But I think you’d have to be silly not to prepare for one of the best. We’ll find out probably later on in the week — or maybe 90 minutes before kickoff — whether he’s going or not.”

Whether it was Burrow’s injury or his lack of practice time, or a little of both, the Cincinnati offense has been slow to rev up and the defending AFC North champion lost its first two games for the second consecutive season.

Late in last Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Ravens, Burrow aggravated the calf injury and limped off the field.

It’s no time to panic, Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said.

“I would argue that this isn’t adversity. That comes (with losses) later in the year, typically,” Taylor said. “We know that this season’s a marathon. We stumbled out the box, but again, we’ll pick up the pace, and (I) feel like we’ll be in good shape as the season goes.”

The Rams (1-1) won at Seattle in Week 1, then came away with plenty of positives in a 30-23 loss to powerhouse San Francisco last week.

Rookie receiver Puka Nacua, second-year running back Kyren Williams and third-year wideout Tutu Atwell led the way in a 386-yard effort by the Matthew Stafford-led offense.

Stafford threw for 307 yards and topped Peyton Manning’s NFL record for the most yards passing by a quarterback in his first 200 games.

Nacua is a busy man

With Cooper Kupp sidelined with a hamstring injury, Nacua set a single-game rookie record with 15 catches for 147 yards last week, giving him an NFL-leading 25 receptions already this season.

But that workload has come at a cost to the fifth-round draft pick from BYU, who sustained an oblique injury in his debut at Seattle. McVay said he has been careful with Nacua in practice and is looking for ways to minimize the wear and tear.

Mixon is in the mix

His numbers haven’t been gaudy, but Bengals running back Joe Mixon has been a steady presence for an inconsistent offense. The seventh-year pro carried 13 times for 56 yards in Week 1, and 13 times for 59 yards last week.

Chase wants passes his way

Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase was vocal after last week’s game about not getting enough deep balls thrown his way. The 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year had five catches for just 31 yards against the Ravens. The longest was 13 yards. In Week 1 he had five receptions for 39 yards, with a long of 12.

Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said opponents’ defensive schemes, not to mention the lousy weather in Week 1, have kept the Bengals from throwing deep more often.

“I think sometimes Ja’Marr talks, and it just comes out his mouth,” Callahan joked. “He’s frustrated because his production isn’t what he’s accustomed to, and that’s OK. I don’t have a problem with that. We’ll still keep trying to find ways to get him the ball, as many ways as we can.”

Super pieces remain from the Rams’ championship team

While the current Rams are largely unrecognizable from the team that defeated the Bengals in the Super Bowl after the 2021 season, their defense still has two key pieces that tormented Burrow. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald had two sacks and two tackles for loss in that game, and middle linebacker Ernest Jones had a sack and two tackles for loss.