It all makes sense now because Joe Burrow throwing the football to Ja’Marr Chase has become a staple of the national highlight shows after each week’s games, not to mention the principal ingredient of the Cincinnati Bengals’ success in their breakthrough season.
But this dynamic and seemingly unstoppable combination, you must recall, has come together despite significant hurdles. And doubts. And even rejections.
Burrow is an NFL star of tomorrow, but not many yesterdays ago, he was in the transfer portal trying to find a college team that would take him because the Ohio State football program didn’t think he could be a starter for them.
Chase, meanwhile, will very likely win the league’s offensive Rookie of the Year award, but it was only a few months ago that the Bengals seemed unwise for picking him No. 3 overall in the first round because his preseason infamously consisted of five drops.
And it goes further back with Chase. Before he became a one-year wonder at LSU, one of the most successful and respected coaches in that program’s history told Chase he wouldn’t play receiver at all.
“I can tell you honestly — one of my best stories ever,” Chase told reporters Wednesday. “Les Miles told me I couldn’t play receiver when I was coming out of high school. So, you know, that was something I had on my shoulders coming up.”
Wait, um, this Zoom connection seems a little whack.
“Les Miles told me he thought I could play cornerback. I wasn’t really in full position at receiver yet,” Chase repeated. “So I just kept working at my craft [in the] offseason, waking up early in the mornings to work out. I just kept focused.”
Once Burrow beamed through transfer portal and Chase overcame Miles’s poor personnel evaluation, the two got together at LSU in 2018 and ’19 and broke a lot of records and feelings and coverages.
And now this pitch-and-catch combination is arguably one of the most dynamic in the entire NFL and one of the best remaining in the playoffs.
So come a long way in a short time? Yes.
Have it any other way? Nope.
“I wouldn’t be the same player I am today without those trials and tribulations I went through there,” Burrow said of his Ohio State days.
“I think I am who I am because of the difficult times I went through in my career. And if you look at all the quarterbacks that were in the playoffs, a lot of them got through adversity in their careers, whether it was early on in high school without [scholarship] offers, or after college, not getting drafted high or having to go to a junior college or something like that.
“I think part of what makes certain people great is the adversity they had to go through.”
And this stuff doesn’t stop once a player like Burrow or Chase arrives on the scene.
What more adversity would anyone want than what Burrow experienced last week? The Tennessee Titans turned the Cincy offensive line into a bank of turnstiles, collecting nine sacks. And while that was happening, Cincinnati’s coach-to-quarterback connection linking coach Zac Taylor to Burrow went dead.
So Burrow had to improvise.
“Never been in that position before,” Burrow said. “It was kind of exciting for me. Zac jokes that, ‘Hey, don’t pretend like the headset goes out so you can call your own plays.’ On Saturday, the headset did go out, so I had to call three or four plays on my own. All of them worked, so that was fun.”
Burrow-to-Chase has worked all season, and that’s really amazing when one considers Burrow is in his second season and Chase is a rookie. But the two have combined for 81 completions for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns.
What happens when these guys grow up and actually figure things out?
“I just think we have a lot of reps accumulated together,” Burrow said. “It’s all about how many times you throw a certain route with a guy and how many times you can talk through certain looks you might see on that route from the defender — whether he’s high hip or low hip, or inside leverage, or outside leverage.
“We just have probably more reps accumulated than a lot of people do.”
Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, himself a 1,000-yard receiver, agrees Burrow and Chase have something special going because of their relationship. And, he says, Chase is one of the few players who can make Burrow lose it, despite his otherwise level-headed demeanor.
“You have to stay level-headed throughout the entire season, and games are just a microcosm of the entire year,” Burrow said. “As far as Ja’Marr goes, we’ve been together for a long time, so he kind of knows how to get under my skin every now and then.”
Chase and Burrow got under the skin of the Chiefs’ defense three weeks ago when the Bengals beat Kansas City 34-31.
Burrow threw for 446 yards and four TDs. Chase caught 11 passes for 266 yards and three TDs.
So can the dynamic duo do it again on Sunday?
“If you want to do the things that we want to do, that’s a team you’re going to have to beat every single year,” Burrow aid. “The AFC has run through them for four straight years, so we’re excited about the opportunity. We’re going to have a great week of practice, and we’re ready to go.”
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