CLEVELAND (AP) — Once he was mercifully pulled, Joe Burrow stood stoically on Cincinnati's sideline and watched the final five minutes of a forgettable season opener.
He kept his helmet on, folded his arms and waited for the clock to expire.
In the moment, Burrow looked beaten and nothing like the NFL's highest-paid player.
Two days after Burrow signed a five-year, $275 million contract extension with the Bengals, the star QB struggled in slippery weather conditions against a rebuilt Cleveland defensive front that didn't afford him much time and made everything hard.
Although Burrow missed more than a month this summer with a strained calf, the 26-year-old didn't offer any excuses following his uncharacteristic performance.
“It’s one week," said Burrow, who was lifted with 5:15 left. "Obviously, not up to our standard. Not up to my standard. We have 16 more of them, so we are going to keep trucking.”
Burrow finished 14 of 31 with a long completion of 12 yards — a very un-Burrow-like stat line. He didn't throw an interception or a touchdown pass, and his 82 yards were his fewest since passing for 148 in 2021 against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Cincinnati's offense was out of sync from the first play, which ended with Burrow barely getting off a quick pass before being hit from the side by defensive end Za'Darius Smith.
Burrow had overthrows, underthrows and generally seemed to be on a different page of the playbook than his receivers.
"That happens in Week 1,” he said. "Obviously, those things happen when your quarterback doesn’t perform in training camp. That was something obviously I would have liked to have done, but there’s no excuses. Obviously, not very good today. We have to be better.”
Bengals coach Zac Taylor tried to extract some positives from Burrow's effort, but couldn't get away from some ugly numbers, notably Cincinnati going 2 of 15 on third downs.
“That's not winning,” Taylor said. “You're not able to extend your drives that way and keep your defense off the field. That's really what it boiled down to.”
Burrow didn't complete a single pass to Tee Higgins despite targeting the receiver eight times.
“It’s definitely frustrating, ending the game with no catches,” Higgins said. “The type of guy and the type of competitor I am, I don’t want to end the game with no catches. Definitely have to put my foot down and get back to work. Grind it out, get in meetings, do all the little things and then come back next week bigger and better.”
The bigger issue for the Bengals was that Cincinnati got dominated up front by Cleveland's defensive line. Led by All-Pro end Myles Garrett and unleashed by new coordinator Jim Schwartz, the Brows teed off on the Bengals' blockers.
Garrett delivered what essentially became the final blow when he sacked Burrow with 10:32 left. Trailing 16-3, Taylor decided to go for it on fourth down, but Garrett chased down Burrow for a 13-yard loss.
Deshaun Watson's 3-yard touchdown pass and 2-point conversion put the Bengals away.
This wasn't the start Burrow and his teammates had in mind, but he was quick to point out that last season wasn't much better.
After losing its opener to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati fell to 0-2 with a loss at Dallas before turning things around and winning eight straight to finish 12-4 and take the AFC North.
“Nobody is panicking here,” Burrow said. "Week 1 doesn’t define anybody’s season. Obviously, not very good out there. Anybody who watched saw that. But we’ve been in this spot before and we’ve come back stronger and had a great year.
"That’s what we are going to do.”
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Tom Withers, The Associated Press