ProFootballDoc: Injury to Bengals QB Joe Burrow Not As Horrific As Everyone Thinks

Lots of news swirling around Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.

After word spread that his injury is more than an ACL tear, many have unnecessarily jumped to the worst fears. On Monday Night Football, there was talk that he may have to skip the 2021 season. Some even feared for his long-term career with the Bengals. 

New close-up video of the injury has fanned these fears, but to me, the video only confirms what we said during the game: a multi-ligament tear of MCL and ACL. It does add the suspicion of patella subluxation, but let’s remember that Patrick Mahomes recovered from that same injury last season to win the Super Bowl. He never needed surgery.

The good news is my initial impression hasn’t changed. Of course, I haven’t examined Burrow, but based on almost two decades as an NFL team physician, I believe he has a reasonable chance to start for the Bengals in Week 1 of 2021. There is no reason to think that Burrow won’t be a long-term fixture for the Bengals. Below, I give the reasons why. I also provide three quarterback comps and discuss why some of the reports seem off-base to me.

Indeed, Burrow has a multi-ligament tear, but his ACL and MCL tear cannot be compared to that of Carson Wentz, who had an ACL and LCL tear. I was firm at the time that Wentz would not be ready Week 1, and he wasn’t. When he started Week 3, I felt that was too early, and indeed his throwing motion changed so much that he ended up with a compensatory back stress fracture. The ACL and LCL both require surgery, while only Burrow’s ACL does. The MCL should heal on its own with rest. This is why surgery will be delayed until December.

Tom Brady tore his ACL and MCL and even had an infection after surgery and still made it back for Week 1. He has obviously gone on to a great career.

Philip Rivers tore his ACL and had MCL damage and had surgery right before the Super Bowl. Yet he still returned to practice after 100 days and was ready for Week 1 the following season, when he earned a then career-high triple digit quarterback rating. (Full disclosure, I was involved in his care/surgery).

In the 2006 Wild Card game, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer tore his ACL and MCL and even subluxed his knee cap. He returned for Week 1 and played all 16 games with a top 6 QB rating of 93.3 that season.

There is no question that Burrow won’t be 100% at the start of next season, but he plays quarterback, not cornerback. I believe he can play Week 1 next year and get stronger as the season progresses. At this point, I have every reason to believe that he will be the long-term QB for the Bengals going forward.

Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

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