The thing about Joe Burrow is, it’s not just about his production as a passer. He is so much more than that. And I don’t simply mean that he’s a leader who encourages others with his words or work ethic.
His play and demeanor are inspirational. They have elevated the entire franchise and made Cincinnati a desirable destination for players. But don’t take it from me.
We recently had the opportunity to interview Bengals great Solomon Wilcots, and he characterized Burrow as a “servant leader” who puts others first before adding:
He’s created this atmosphere, this culture, this environment, and everybody wants to be a part of it. All the guys who sign up in free agency, when I talk to ‘em, they say they’re here for number nine. “Why’d you want to come to Cincinnati?” “Oh, Joe Burrow’s here.”
Even those outside of the organization can perceive the change. Wilcots pointed to the fact that Peter King recently placed Burrow twelfth overall on his list of the most influential people, not just players, in the NFL.
This is a list that also includes NFL and media execs and owners. And Burrow is one of the players near the top. “He turned an irrelevant franchise relevant in 25 months,” King wrote.
So how does Burrow do it? How does he elevate an entire franchise? It’s not just by throwing a football well.
Rather, and this may be hard to grasp, Burrow inspires the defense and special teams as well. Here’s what Wilcots had to say:
Very good, elite quarterbacks—and Joe Burrow is that—are what we call a “force multiplier.” Their ability to produce at a high level, plus the energy and confidence that they breed, it impacts everyone from Evan McPherson, whether you’re the kicker, whether you’re Kevin Huber, the punter, whether you’re the offense. And it does impact the defense.
But how is it possible that a quarterback can improve the play of players when he’s not even on the field? Wilcots explained:
Think about this. The defense knows, that, for instance, if you’re Jessie Bates, and you intercept the very first pass of a playoff game against Ryan Tannehill, the number one seed in the AFC, on the road, hostile environment in Nashville, you know that Joe Burrow is going to turn that into points.
You know that he’s going to make good of your efforts. And it allows you to play with higher energy, because you know that whatever little good you do, it’s going to be magnified by that force multiplier to end up becoming a more decisive game-winning moment. And that’s the same thing that happened in the AFC Championship game against Kansas City [in overtime].
In short, knowing that your great play will actually mean something provides added motivation and sometimes even adrenaline. It helps players get into a better flow, where they are relaxed and using their athleticism and instincts to make plays instead of overthinking or confronting self doubt.
I would add that knowing you have a QB who can dig you out of a deficit (like Burrow and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady) might also inspire defenders to go for the big plays, as they are not fearful of losing the game on account of a single play that results in a big gain or a score. And, as we all saw, the Bengals defense came through with timely play time and time again in the postseason.