CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow looked across the field at his team’s sideline, flipped his palms upward and shrugged to apologize for a throw that set history.
But there was nothing for Burrow to be sorry about on one of the most prolific passing days in NFL history.
Burrow set a franchise record for the most passing yards in a single game in Cincinnati’s 41-21 win over the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. He was 37-of-46 passing for 525 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Burrow broke the record previously held by Boomer Esiason, who threw for 490 yards in an overtime game against the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 7, 1990. It was also the fourth-highest total in NFL history — just shy of Norm Van Brocklin’s 554 yards against the New York Yanks in 1951.
After the game, the second-year quarterback said the record was a reflection of the entire team’s performance and was necessary as the Bengals (9-6) swept the Ravens in the regular season for the first time since 2015.
“You know, I really don’t think about the yards too much,” said Burrow, who added that he’s just as happy throwing for much smaller totals like his 148-yard effort in a win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Nov. 21. “Whatever it takes to win the game. Today, it took throwing for 525 yards.”
Burrow appeared to secure the franchise record on a touchdown throw to wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who had a 32-yard touchdown catch overturned on Cincinnati’s penultimate offensive drive.
However, Burrow trotted back onto the field with the knowledge he was shy of the 500-yard mark. On a play when Bengals coach Zac Taylor instructed Burrow not to scramble, he instinctively fled the pocket and threw a deep ball to running back Joe Mixon, who caught the pass for a 52-yard, record-setting completion.
That, not a tribute to Michael Jordan’s iconic shrug against the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1992 NBA Finals, prompted the half-shrug, half-apology to Taylor from across the field.
“I knew I wasn’t supposed to do it, but we went out there and did it anyway,” Burrow said.
The second-year quarterback’s career performance came days after Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said it was too early to gift Burrow the “gold jacket” given to those in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Burrow said he was aware of Martindale’s comments as he chased the record on Sunday.
“I wouldn’t say I was offended by it,” said Burrow, the top overall pick in the 2020 draft. “I mean, I’m in Year Two. Who knows what’s going to happen down the road? But I didn’t think it was a necessary comment.”
In two wins over Baltimore this season, Burrow threw for a combined 941 passing yards, seven touchdowns and one interception. After throwing for 416 yards against a much healthier version of the Ravens, Burrow had even more success against a Baltimore team decimated by injuries and battling a multitude of COVID-19 cases. With those numbers, Burrow becomes the first player to pass for 900 yards against a single team in a season in NFL history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He breaks the record previously shared by Joe Montana and Dan Marino.
On Sunday, the bulk of Burrow’s passing yards went to wide receiver Tee Higgins, who finished with a career-high 194 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
“When he’s on fire like that all your job is to do is get open and he’s going to find you,” Higgins said.
Taylor, who has Cincinnati leading the AFC North by one game and in position for the team’s first playoff berth since 2015, said he wasn’t surprised by Burrow’s record-breaking performance.
“He was feeling it today,” the coach said.