CINCINNATI (AP) — After signing a contract extension that made him the NFL's highest-paid player, Joe Burrow went into rainy Cleveland and played a forgettable game.
Then he decided to get a haircut, the result of which was covered on social media early this week nearly as comprehensively as the star quarterback's flat performance in the Bengals' 24-3 loss to the Browns.
Burrow hopes the new look inspires touchdowns when another AFC North rival — the Baltimore Ravens — visits Cincinnati on Sunday.
The fact Burrow was off kilter last week wasn't entirely surprising. He had missed most of training camp nursing a strained calf muscle that still gets tight. He couldn't get a good grip on the ball in heavy rain and never looked comfortable in throwing for a career-low 82 yards. He was benched late in the game, also a first in his career.
“We know what we put on film on Sunday wasn't us,” the 2022 Pro Bowl selection said. “We've proven that in the past. So, we've got to go out and prove it again.
“Long season,” he said. “Everybody has bad games. That's going to happen.”
The Ravens also showed some rust in last week's 25-9 win over Houston, during which running back J.K. Dobbins was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Baltimore had some other key players banged up, too.
The Ravens come to Paycor Stadium for the third time in nine months. They were beaten by the Bengals in two consecutive weeks in January — the regular-season finale and a wild-card playoff game — while quarterback Lamar Jackson was sidelined with an injury.
“We lost a couple times, but I feel like we played strong games," said Baltimore running back Gus Edwards, who's likely to get more carries with Dobbins out. “We were in those games until the very end, and with Lamar back, we have our leader back, and (there's) going to be a lot more big plays.”
Rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers had a big debut last week, catching nine passes for 78 yards. He had almost as many targets (10) as the rest of the team combined.
Flowers clearly has the ability to make defenders miss after the catch and could give Baltimore's offense a dimension it hasn’t had lately at receiver.
“Had a lot of really good blocks. He was running routes fast,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I was happy for him. He’s just going to build off of that 100%, and he’s going to have a lot of great days in front of him.”
Roquan Smith had 16 tackles and fellow linebacker Patrick Queen had 11 in the opener, and each had a sack. Although the Ravens have issues in the secondary because of injuries, it seems clear Smith and Queen are ready to lead the defense again.
Smith and Queen became the first duo in Ravens history to have at least 10 tackles and a sack for each player.
The Bengals will see Baltimore's offense for the first time under new coordinator Todd Monken, who guided the offense at Georgia the past three years, winning a national championship in the last two straight. He previously coached in the NFL at Tampa Bay and Cleveland.
The Bengals are preparing for the same tuck-it-and-run plays from Jackson, but expect some new twists that aren't even on film yet.
“It’s still a lot of unknowns there," Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said. "Todd has done what he’s done in the league for a while. He’s done what he’s done in Georgia. I know Coach Harbaugh still has his hard feelings on what he likes to do, I’m assuming. The O-line coach (Joe D’Alessandris) is still there, so they still have all those runs that I’m quite sure that Lamar likes to run. So, we’ve got to prepare for it all.”
AP Sports Writer Noah Trister contributed.
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