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The Great One, Part 2: Like Gretzky, Joe Burrow Sees Game Differently

This isn’t an original thought. This is not John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind.” This is not something no one else is out there talking about, because we’re all admiring what Joe Burrow is doing in Cincinnati … and all trying to dissect how he’s getting it done and if we’ve seen this anywhere before.

For my money, I’m seeing a compilation of multiple quarterbacks with this young man, who is all of 26. I know a lot of people want to compare him to Tom Brady. I understand that makes sense with the attributes Burrow carries. But to me, it’s almost like astrology. You know, when you’re born within three days on either side of the date of that specific sign, that’s called being born on the cusp. And you get both attributes of those signs.

I feel like that’s what Burrow is. Sure, there’s plenty of Tom Brady, there’s no question about it. And it becomes more like Brady when he adds championships, when he wins the Super Bowl.
But how about Joe Montana? I really think we’re overlooking that aspect of him. “Joe Cool” himself, with four Super Bowl wins. But it’s not just the championship pedigree, but how he played the game, too.

The way I look at it with Joe Burrow, he’s a flat-out assassin. This guy comes in, he wants to just take you out and go on home. And there’s never a change of expression. Go out and do the hit, come back and have dinner with his family. No worries. Blood pressure never goes up.

We saw that in Buffalo. How about how he came out in the first quarter on the road in the snow? The Bengals jump out to a 14-0 lead. He’s 10-of-13 for 118 yards passing with two touchdowns in the first quarter. He sets the tone.

Like The Great One did.

Seeing Game Differently

Yes, I actually went outside of Burrow’s sport to compare him to Wayne Gretzky. I grew up a huge hockey fan, and that may surprise people, but growing up in New York, you get the Rangers and the Islanders and the Devils in New Jersey. And of course, you get all the original teams that are involved.

I remember Gretzky hit the scene with Edmonton in the early 1980s. I was captivated by how they played and how fast they were. They were kind of like a spread offense in football when they hit the scene.

In reading more about Gretzky, I found out his father, Walter, had told him — because he was not the most physically dominant player (6-foot, 185 pounds) — “You have to be quicker and smarter than your opponents. You have to see things before they happen.”

Walter would take him to the rink and take out a puck. He’d send it into different parts of the rink and tell Wayne to go get it. And what he was trying to teach him was that the puck was not going to end up where it was going originally. In other words, see the movement of the puck, see the bounces, see the change and see where it’s going to end up. Play the angles. Then you can be there first and make a better play.

I think that’s what I see with Joe Burrow, the way he surveys the defense, the way he reacts when the defense changes on the fly. He’s seeing the game two or three steps ahead and arriving there before the defense can get there, and making every play possible. That’s the reason I come back to the Gretzky comparison.

Again, Burrow, like Gretzky, is not physically dominant, though big enough (6-4, 215) to play quarterback. But he’s not a monster like Josh Allen (6-5, 237). He’s not a big guy like that. But this guy uses his mind, sees the game ahead of everyone else and gets it done.

Best of New-Age Quarterbacking

In this season, Burrow threw for 28 touchdowns and had 12 interceptions. Four of those interceptions came in the first game of the season against Pittsburgh when Burrow was coming off an appendectomy. When the Bengals got things in order, well, they haven’t lost since Halloween.

I think he represents the best of what I call the new-age quarterback. I know that for most, the new-age quarterback involves being mobile. Well, this kid is still doing everything old-style … with a little bit of mobility added. And that’s why I think he’s representing what is the best of the new-age quarterback.

And this guy has enough movement and running ability to help the Bengals win when that is necessary. We saw that in Buffalo on Sunday and throughout the entire season when he had 75 rushing attempts for 257 yards, five touchdowns and 27 rushing first downs.

You hear quarterback coaches talk all the time, asking, “Can you get me a first down or two each game with your feet?” Joe Burrow is capable of doing that.

You want to get him outside the pocket? We know Patrick Mahomes is unbelievable outside the pocket. I think Burrow is underrated in that area. He was first in the league with a 122.2 passer rating, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions outside the pocket.

I mentioned how cold-blooded this kid is. He is absolutely unbelievable. How about these career postseason stats: 5-1 record, 68 percent completions and more than 1,500 yards passing. That’s nearly 260 per game. And Burrow has eight passing touchdowns in the playoffs with two interceptions and a 98.4 passer rating.

And now he’s going back to another AFC championship game … in just his third NFL season.

Another ‘Joe Cool’

In last year’s AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium, remember how the Bengals were down big, 21-3, in the first half? He helped bring them back. They won, 27-24. He was 23-of-38 for 250 yards, with two TDs and an interception. And now, Mahomes’ team is hosting its fifth straight AFC Championship Game. I don’t think that will faze Joe Burrow.

Why not?

Because Joe Burrow and Cincinnati are 3-0 against Kansas City, including the playoffs. He’s completed 72 percent of his passes for 982 yards in the three games, with eight passing touchdowns, one interception and a 121.0 passer rating.

So let’s sum it all up. What we’re seeing in this new age of quarterbacking, where mobility rules the day, is that you still need to be able to deliver from the pocket and win pre- and post-snap. And doing it where your demeanor never changes; the blood pressure never changes whether you’re up or down on the scoreboard.

Is that Tom Brady? Absolutely. Joe Montana and Warren Moon did it that way as well.

And don’t forget about Wayne Gretzky.

Because that’s Joe Burrow. This kid is special. He is something to watch.

Charles Davis is an NFL analyst for CBS and NFL Network. He joined the sports media world after playing safety at the University of Tennessee.

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