Joe Burrow is ready to roll for the Cincinnati Bengals’ season opener against the host Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
The star quarterback was a full participant at practice this week and head coach Zac Taylor confirmed his readiness Friday for the 100th meeting between the Ohio rivals.
Burrow strained his calf early in training camp and missed a month of practice and all three preseason games before returning last week.
On Thursday, Burrow and the Bengals reportedly agreed to a five-year, $275 million extension that makes him the highest-paid player in NFL history at $55 million per season.
It’s a reflection of how far the franchise has come since the dark days before drafting Burrow first overall in 2020. Cincinnati has gone 22-10 when Burrow starts during the past two regular seasons; it reached the Super Bowl in the 2021 season and fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in last year’s AFC Championship Game.
“This is where I want to be my whole career,” Burrow said Wednesday. “You’ve seen what the front office has done and what Zac has done in their time here. I’m a small part of that. I’m excited to be a part of that.”
The Bengals added stalwart left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to an offense that returns running back Joe Mixon and wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Mixon restructured his contract in July, pointing to the Bengals’ potential.
“I see the bigger picture. I see the task at hand and what we’re trying to build, and in order to keep other players here and pieces here, sometimes you have to sacrifice,” Mixon told the team website. “I felt like this year was the year to sacrifice on the Super Bowl team we can potentially be.”
As for the Bengals’ rivals in the northeast corner of the state, the Browns’ quarterback situation could make them one of the league’s bigger sleepers.
It’s the dawn of Deshaun Watson’s first full season in Cleveland after two tumultuous years — first a holdout with the Houston Texans, then an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy after more than two dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions.
At his best, Watson has ranked among the league’s top signal-callers. The three-time Pro Bowl selection has a 2.7:1 career touchdown-to-interception ratio.
“I’m not the same guy,” Watson said Wednesday. “I feel like I’ve improved. I’ve evolved to a new level. And I’m ready to be able to show that.
“I don’t want to return as the guy at Houston, I want to be better than that guy. I had a lot of fun, a lot of success in Houston. But I want to have that success and start something new in Cleveland.”
The Bengals lead the Browns 52-47 in the all-time series, but Cleveland has taken five of the past six games and eight of the past 10. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said it’s unique to start a season against an opponent as familiar as the Bengals.
“There’s so much tape to watch of your scheme versus their scheme, and they’ve obviously evolved over time just like we have,” Stefanski said. “I’m speaking (about) our offense and their defense, but there’s certainly a lot of tape to look at and a lot of different situations.”
Browns wideout Marquise Goodwin, who suffered blood clots in his legs and lungs during training camp, was listed as limited in Wednesday’s practice with an illness. Cornerback Denzel Ward cleared concussion protocol Friday and will play Sunday, while safety Juan Thornhill (calf) is questionable.
Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai (ankle) sat out Wednesday’s practice and is seen as day-to-day.
–Field Level Media