The Cincinnati Bengals entered Week 9 coming off a brutal, deflating loss to the New York Jets as the leaders of the AFC. A game against the in-state, divisional rival Cleveland Browns—who had just passed on trading Odell Beckham Jr. before deciding to waive him anyway—seemed like a great opportunity for a get-right game. After all, Cleveland’s offense hadn’t looked formidable in the three weeks since their shootout with the Los Angeles Chargers in early October.
Instead, Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow had his turnover problem rear its ugly head once again. A game in which the Bengals held a majority in time of possession with just 13 fewer yards of total offense was a complete blowout. Cincinnati has now lost two straight since taking pole position in the AFC, and Burrow’s interceptions are becoming a big problem.
Through nine weeks of the 2021 season, Burrow’s 11 interceptions have him tied for the NFL lead in picks. The guy he shares that honor with? None other than the Carolina Panthers’ Sam Darnold, who if you haven’t heard, isn’t doing so hot with his new team. Burrow is currently on a five-game streak of starts with an interception, and he’s thrown at least one pick in all but two games this season. It’s pretty surprising to see from the former first overall pick, who threw just five interceptions in his 10 games last season and 11 in his entire college career.
Of course, not all picks are equal. Some are significantly worse than others, depending on the atrocity of the throw, audacity of bad decision-making, or the importance of the turnover in the context of the game. Sometimes though, a quarterback can just be unlucky. Burrow has had a couple of unlucky picks that didn’t end up mattering, like this pass attempt to Ja’Marr Chase that turned into an easy tip drill for Detroit Lions defenders. But with so many interceptions this season alone, it means he’s also had several picks that were on him, including some that were incredibly costly.
There was the run of three straight pass attempts picked off against the Chicago Bears, the first two of which were poor throws and poor decisions with the third being a good play on a missed block. Burrow’s three picks kept the Bengals just out of reach of a 2-0 start to the season in what turned out to be a close game in Chicago.
Then there was the overtime interception against the Green Bay Packers in Week 5. Cincinnati had the chance to drive down the field and win with a touchdown, but Burrow just threw it straight to Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. It set Green Bay up in field goal range, needing just three points to win. We all know what happened next (missed field goals galore), but the terrible throw from Burrow, though it didn’t doom the Bengals immediately, can’t be overlooked as a part of that loss.
More recently, it doesn’t take a big leap in conclusions to blame another loss—last week’s brutal dropped game to the Jets—on another Burrow interception. It wasn’t all his fault—Shaq Lawson made a great read then an impressive play on the ball to come down with it—but it’s another example of a poorly timed misstep that led to a loss. New York scored soon after to take the lead, and they never gave it back.
Starting a game with an opening drive down to the opposing team’s 3-yard line just to not only not score, but to give up a 99-yard pick-six, is an incredibly deflating start to the game. Throwing a second interception with another long return to set up more easy points for an opponent who already has the lead is also bad for team morale.
With so many interceptions on the season, it’s not surprising that several of Burrow’s poorer plays have been costly ones that lost games or kept them out of reach for the Bengals. Not all of the picks have been his fault, but he needs to learn to take better care of the football—especially late in games—to be considered among the top quarterback talent in the NFL.