Burrow had to change his game because of a calf injury. The Titans’ defense presents another challenge

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CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Burrow still wasn’t fully healthy when he took the field for Monday night’s win over the Rams.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, right, scrambles away from Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Byron Young (0) during the second half of an NFL football game
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, right, scrambles away from Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Byron Young (0) during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, in Cincinnati. [Michael Conroy | AP]
He said as much after the game.

“Don’t have any setbacks — basically, that was the criteria for me,” the Bengals Pro Bowl quarterback said.

Still trying to manage a persistent calf injury, Burrow had to adapt. He didn’t scramble or move in the pocket much.

Short, quick passes mostly kept him out of the crosshairs of Aaron Donald and the Rams pass rush. Throws he usually makes were off target.

“I was pretty cautious,” Burrow acknowledged. “I was quick to throw the ball away, but we were able to get the job done.”

The Bengals were faced with the question of whether Burrow being slowed by a leg injury is still better than any of the other healthy quarterbacks on the roster.

Coach Zac Taylor put his faith in Burrow, who got an assist from the Cincinnati defense, which was magnificent on a night it was needed most.

Burrow was good enough to beat the Rams 19-16, but it’s still a question of whether he can win games going forward without a longer stretch of rest and rehab for the right calf muscle he strained in training camp in late July.

“You just never fully know,” Taylor said. “You just want honest responses from him, which he gave. You talk to doctors, and everyone gets on the same page, and he goes out there and delivers that type of performance.”

The 26-year-old quarterback — the highest-paid player in the league at about $55 million per year — said the prospect of Cincinnati falling to 0-3 was enough to take the chance Monday night. Another loss may have put the playoffs out of reach.

“There is risk to go out there and potentially reinjure it. But there’s also risk to go out there and be 0-3,” he said.

“I wanted to be out there for my guys. I was confident that I could do what I need to get the win.”

His participation Monday was a game-time decision. All the drama that swirled for several days leading up to the game is likely to be repeated as long as the injury remains an issue.

Ja’Marr Chase caught 12 passes for 141 yards and Joe Mixon rushed for 65 yards and Cincinnati’s only touchdown.

What’s working for the Bengals

Defense, defense, defense. Cincinnati beat up the Rams offensive line, sacked Matthew Stafford six times, and linebacker Logan Wilson intercepted him twice. The defense limited Los Angeles to three field goals most of the way. The Rams finally got a touchdown with a little more than a minute left. They were 1 for 11 on third down and punted six times.

What needs help other than Burrow’s health

Burrow needs to continue to heal. He got better as the game went on and he started throwing downfield more. But he needs to be at full health to be able to scramble and throw on the run when plays break down. He finished 26 for 49 for a season-high 259 yards and threw an interception for the second straight game. Three false start penalties among a total of seven infractions by Cincinnati were drive-killers.

Stock up

Wilson turned in the second multi-interception game of his four-year pro career and had three tackles. … Defensive end Trey Hendrickson sacked Stafford twice, and safety Dax Hill and linemen B.J. Hill, D.J. Reader and Sam Hubbard each had a sack, pushing the Rams back a total of 48 yards.

Stock down

Tee Higgins, after catching two touchdown passes in the Week 2 loss to the Ravens, dropped at least two passes Monday night. He was targeted eight times and had just two catches for 21 yards. A 38-yard catch on a go-route in the second quarter would have given Cincinnati the ball at the Rams 1, but the play was erased because Higgins was flagged for pass interference.


None reported during the game. Starting tight end Irv Smith Jr. was inactive with a hamstring injury.

Key numbers for Burrow

2 — number of touchdowns Burrow has through three games, which is also the number of interceptions he’s thrown.

Next steps

Give Burrow as much rest as possible and hope he doesn’t tweak the injury again against the Tennessee Titans. Coach up the backup quarterbacks Jake Browning, Reid Sinnett and A.J. McCarron.

“It’s still day to day,” Burrow said. “I’ve learned through the process you can have (a setback) at any time, so it was good to get through this one. That means it will be stronger for this week, so hopefully I can have a full week of practice to prepare for next week.”


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