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Simple As That: Bengals Dominate Steelers Now Because ‘We Have Joe Burrow’, Tyler Boyd Says

The Cincinnati Bengals are 16-11 since the start of last season—not to mention a 3-1 postseason record. That might not look incredible, but it is for a franchise that hadn’t had a non-losing record since 2015. A general improvement in talent, particularly at quarterback, accounts for that, so perhaps reversals of individual rivalries are more symptoms than causes.

The Bengals lost 11 consecutive games to the Steelers between 2016 and 2020, and 14 out of 15, but they’ve won four out of the last five, the only blemish in that run being this year’s season opener in which they seemed to be suffering something of a Super Bowl hangover.

They have awakened since then and after opening the season 2-3 have won four out of five, including Sunday’s 37-30 victory over the Steelers. That win was built on a strong second half in which they outscored Pittsburgh 20-10, the final seven of the home team’s points coming in the final minute—too little, too late. So what has the difference been in the rivalry for the past three years that has turned the tide in favor of Cincinnati?

“We have Joe Burrow,” said Clairton native and seventh-year Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Asked as a follow-up if it was really as simple as all that, he nodded emphatically in the affirmative, via Joe Danneman of FOX19 in Cincinnati.

The first-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Burrow only won two games (and drew to a tie once) during his rookie season, which ended with him suffering a torn ACL 10 games in. He’s been quickly rising in the league since then.

Beginning with the start of the 2021 season, he has completed 623 out of 892 pass attempts at nearly 70 percent for 7,501 yards and 56 touchdowns. He has thrown 22 interceptions over the past 26 games with a quarterback rating of 106.0 despite lacking great pass protection; he has been sacked 83 times in that same span, or on 8.5 percent of his dropbacks.

Burrow just recently became among the fastest quarterbacks in NFL history to record 10,000 passing yards, measured by games played. He achieved that feat against the Steelers on Sunday in his 36th career start, now with 10,189 passing yards.

On Sunday, he had his least efficient passing game of the season, completing only 24 of 39 attempts, but those 24 completions went for 355 yards. Four of them found the end zone. Pittsburgh picked him off twice, but both involved tips at the line of scrimmage—one plucked out of the air from just feet away by T.J. Watt, which he also managed in the season-opening loss.

Yes, a great talent under center can have a transformative effect on a franchise—though not always. Cincinnati finished Burrow’s rookie season 4-11-1 before making it to the Super Bowl a year later. They’re trending toward another playoff spot in 2022 at this rate. Can the Steelers have any hope of Kenny Pickett providing a similar progression?

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