COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — If it wasn't bad enough already, 2020 took a terrible turn for the Cincinnati Bengals and their prized rookie quarterback Joe Burrow.
The Heisman Trophy winner and top draft pick brought excitement and hope to the franchise and its long-suffering fans that was drained in an instant when Burrow's left leg was bent in an unnatural angle in the second half of Sunday's game against Washington.
Cincinnati lost Burrow for the season, then lost the game.
“It just kind of tore everybody apart," receiver Tyler Boyd said.
Shortly after the game, Burrow tweeted: “Thanks for all the love. Can’t get rid of me that easy. See ya next year.”
Coach Zac Taylor would say only that Burrow will have surgery and should be ready for 2021 season. Burrow was placed on injured reserve on Monday.
“He was a tremendous leader for us, and he gave us a lot of energy the way he led the unit,” Taylor said. “I can't be robot coach and say that we're not going to be missing that, because we will.”
Boyd said he saw Burrow on Monday and reported the quarterback's mood to be "positive.”
“His spirits are up," Boyd said. "He’s not walking around with his head down. He’s a true believer, and he knows he’ll be back ready and better than ever.”
The esteem felt for Burrow in his southeastern Ohio hometown, and in Louisiana where he won a national championship at LSU, and in Cincinnati was displayed in an uptick of donations to an Athens, Ohio, hunger relief fund that was inspired by his Heisman Trophy speech and now bears his name.
It started shortly after he was taken off the field. Many people were donating $9 to match his uniform number, and dozens left messages on the website wishing him well.
“We are proud of you Joe,” an anonymous donor wrote Monday. “We know you are a Super Bowl champion in the making. Every great story has adversity... this is just another chapter for you!”
Taylor, whose first season in 2019 ended at 2-14, could see the progress and potential with Burrow, who was on track to break several rookie passing records and already had thrown for 300 yards five times.
“He handled everything like a professional from day one, and to be voted a captain just speaks to everything that you need to know about the guy," Taylor said. "The players have responded to him, the coaches have responded to him, the city has responded to him and all that is equally as important."
Before Burrow was carted off Sunday, his Cincinnati teammates gathered around in support, and Chase Young, Dwyane Haskins Jr. and Terry McLaurin — Washington players who were Burrow’s teammates at Ohio State — also came over to have a word.
Now the attention turns to backup QB Ryan Finley, a fourth-round pick in 2019 who played some as a rookie last year when Andy Dalton was benched. He'll be the starter Sunday against the New York Giants, and Brandon Allen will move up from the practice squad to No. 2.
As fingers were being pointed all around Monday in the wake of Burrow's injury, Taylor insisted it was the right move to start the rookie from the beginning, even given the questionable state of an offensive line that became even more unsure because of multiple injuries.
Taylor said the line was playing well in the first half Sunday and noted that on the play that resulted in the injury, Burrow had a “clean pocket” to get the ball away and then got his leg bent sideways after pass-rushers collapsed on him.
It's been one thing after another for the Bengals this season. Injuries up and down the offensive line, defensive line and in the secondary. Starting running back Joe Mixon went on injured reserve with a foot injury.
“We always say, and I always preach, that we’re going to be the team this year to beat,” said Boyd, who is in his fifth season with the Bengals. “It never goes that way. We take blow after blow.”
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