Why Dan Marino, other Super Bowl QBs offer cautionary tales for Joe Burrow’s Bengals

The Bengals made a playoff run ahead of schedule with Joe Burrow in 2021.

Burrow became just the seventh quarterback to take a team to the Super Bowl in his sophomore season. The No. 1 pick of 2020 isn’t all that loosely compared to quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Still, the question didn’t take long after the Bengals lost 23-20 to the Rams in Super Bowl 56.

When will Burrow be back?

“We’re a young team,” Burrow said in his postgame press conference. “You would like to think that we will be back in this situation many times over the next few years. We will take this and let it fuel us for the rest of our careers.”

Will Burrow follow the trend of other sophomore Super Bowl starters? What about those Hall of Fame quarterbacks? What is Burrow’s path back to the Super Bowl? Sporting News takes a closer look:

MORE: How the Bengals’ pass protection issues for Joe Burrow caught up with them in Super Bowl 56

Sophomore Super Bowl QB

Burrow joined an exclusive group of QBs who took their team to the Super Bowl in their second season. This list includes Dan Marino (1984), Kurt Warner (1999), Tom Brady (2001), Ben Roethlisberger (2005), Colin Kaepernick (2012), and Russell Wilson (2013).

Marino and Warner are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Brady, Roethlisberger and maybe Wilson could join them. Marino and Kaepernick were the other QBs whose team lost in the Super Bowl in that second season.

Could Burrow do this kind of racing? He’s the fastest No. 1 pick to bring his team up that fast. The Bengals had an impressive playoff streak, and Burrow averaged 276.2 passing yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions over those four games. He also did so by taking 19 sacks, a major problem the Bengals need to address in the offseason.

He also took a cue from Warner heading into 2022. During his post-Super Bowl talk, Burrow said he watched “A Football Life,” the biopic about Warner, during the break from two weeks, and it wasn’t the Super Bowl the former Rams quarterback talked about. It was the second – a 20-17 loss to New England in Super Bowl 36 – that hit home.

“I kind of thought about it in the locker room,” Burrow said. “When they lost one and later (Warner) said, ‘They let it sting too much not to celebrate what they’ve achieved. Obviously it stings, but we had a great year.”

Now the pressure is on to come back.

Unique Super Bowl QBs in the HOF

It’s early to project Burrow as a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback, but it’s worth looking back at those quarterbacks who only made one Super Bowl start that ended in Canton.

This list includes Joe Namath (1968), Johnny Unitas (1968), Ken Stabler (1976), Marino (1984), and Steve Young (1994). Drew Brees (2009) and Aaron Rodgers (2010) are among the quarterbacks who are poised to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame with a Super Bowl start.

Marino is the only quarterback on both lists, and the one who will draw comparisons to Burrow if the Bengals quarterback can’t return to the Super Bowl. Marino went 6-8 in the playoffs after the first Super Bowl run.

Burrow also draws early comparisons to Rodgers based on his effectiveness. Rodgers led the NFL in passer ratings in 2021 at 111.9. Burrow is second at 108.3. Rodgers made the Super Bowl with Green Bay in his sixth season, but it was only his third season as a starter. Rodgers is 7-9 in the playoffs since that Super Bowl run.

That Burrow draws comparisons to legendary passers in Marino and Rodgers is flattering, but the road back to the Super Bowl isn’t easy.

Burrow knows it too.

“You’d like to say we’re going to come back every year,” Burrow said. “It is not a reality. We will work very hard to get back to this moment and finish in the lead as we wanted this year. We came just short.”

How Burrow fits into the AFC

So which of these quarterback trajectories will Burrow follow?

Brady is the best-case scenario among these two lists. He went on to win seven Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before retiring after the 2021 season.

To call Marino the worst-case scenario would be a disservice to his Hall of Fame career. He finished with 61,361 passing yards and 420 touchdowns, both NFL records at the time, and he did so without a game in progress. Karim Abdul-Jabbar (’96) was the Dolphins’ only 1,000-yard rusher in Marino’s 17 seasons. But that second Super Bowl appearance never happened.

Nor will it be a guarantee with Burrow. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, who led a Super Bowl run in his second season as a starter and third overall, and Buffalo’s Josh Allen, are among the top picks to lead their respective teams to Super Bowl 57. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, Burrow’s classmate, also has a bright future in the AFC.

Burrow too. He’s a hero close to home with a grounded approach. He was asked to compare the loss of Super Bowl 56 to Ohio’s Division II football state championship game.

“You lose a state championship or a Super Bowl,” he said. “Obviously it’s different media coverage, but it’s the same for me.”

The difference is that Burrow has a chance to return to the Super Bowl, and that’s what is expected now. Considering the talent he’s shown and the company he keeps, it’s a safe bet he will.

This is what happens when you work ahead of schedule.

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