Comeback falls short, but Bengals' Joe Burrow shows resilience in NFL debut

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow provided a glimpse into what his rookie year could look like.

The top overall pick in the 2020 draft made a few mistakes in his NFL debut. But he showed enough good things to suggest the Bengals can live with those rookie errors if it means Burrow cements himself as the next franchise quarterback.

Burrow came agonizingly close to helping the Bengals avoid a 16-13 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium. The rookie was 23-of-36 passing for 193 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He scored his first career touchdown with a 23-yard run in the first quarter.

While the turnover came in the fourth quarter, Burrow rallied and was on the verge of becoming the first quarterback taken No. 1 overall to win his rookie debut since David Carr did it in 2002.

Burrow had a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver A.J. Green negated after Green was whistled for offensive pass interference with 7 seconds remaining. Kicker Randy Bullock missed a 31-yarder with 2 seconds left that would have put the game into overtime.

On Cincinnati's final drive, Burrow showed the resolve he'll need during his rookie season. On the possession following the interception, Burrow calmly led the Bengals down the field and made nearly every throw he needed to pull off the comeback. He was 8-of-11 for 70 yards on that final drive.

Much like Sunday, Burrow's rookie year won't be perfect. But the resilience he showed is a good sign -- and will be required as he tries to navigate the NFL.

Troubling performance: There's really no way around it -- the Bengals' offensive line needs to do a better job of keeping Burrow upright. In the first half, Burrow was on the ground often. When he was standing, he had limited time to find receivers. He averaged 2.21 seconds per attempt in the first half, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. At the time, that was the quickest of any qualifying quarterback in Week 1. To the Bengals' credit, the offensive line looked considerably better in the second half and gave Burrow the chance to make some big plays. However, the line has been scrutinized over the years for a reason. And with Burrow behind center, it's imperative Cincinnati is consistently able to protect their young quarterback.

Promising trend: The lone bright spot for the Bengals' defense in 2019 has carried over into the new season. Last year, Cincinnati was fifth in the NFL in defensive red-zone efficiency, one of the few good metrics for one of the worst units in the league. The defense gave the Bengals a chance to win the season opener against the Chargers. Los Angeles scored only one touchdown on three trips inside the Bengals' 10-yard line. The lone touchdown came on Joshua Kelley's 5-yard run after Cincinnati was temporarily without defensive tackle D.J. Reader, who was suffering from cramps. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo won't mind all the yards allowed. The amount of drives that didn't result in a touchdown is an encouraging sign.