Chargers follow Taylor into Burrow’s Bengals debut
Sunday’s season-opening contest between the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium marks a number of firsts — and not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AFC matchup in Cincinnati marks a return to competition after a training camp period without preseason games. For the Chargers, it’s also the franchise’s first game without Philip Rivers on the roster since the end of the 2003 season.
After 16 seasons in the organization, 14 as its starting quarterback, Rivers signed with the Indianapolis Colts in March. The Chargers drafted University of Oregon product Justin Herbert with the No. 6 pick, making him the third quarterback taken overall in 2020. He might be the heir apparent, but Herbert will not start in Week 1.
That honor goes to Tyrod Taylor, a 10-year NFL veteran and Rivers’ backup a season ago.
“We’ve had a lot of time to get the work in. This August, we worked intentionally to be as good as we can in each situation thrown at us,” Taylor said in his press conference after being named the Week 1 starter. “With the tight ends, receivers and running backs, the chemistry is there.”
As for the first quarterback taken in the 2020 draft, and the No. 1 pick overall, 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow makes his pro debut as both the starter and a captain for the Bengals.
“Joe’s a winner. People say he only did it for one year, but that one year was unbelievable,” said Chargers coach Anthony Lynn. “I don’t see him slowing down much in this league.”
Burrow passed for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns while leading LSU to the national championship. While the highly touted rookie faces a learning curve ahead of his pro debut, he told reporters at his Aug. 30 press conference his primary concern stems from having not had preseason opportunities due to the pandemic.
“The one thing I think I am a little worried about is not getting hit until the first game,” he said. “I’ve been lobbying to be live in one of these scrimmages.”
Not risking an injury before game week, Burrow’s lobbying has been unsuccessful. Cincinnati already faces some injury uncertainty on offense with wide receiver John Ross III questionable due to an arm injury, and running back Joe Mixon questionable as a result of a head injury.
Los Angeles faces its own injury uncertainties, particularly on the offensive line with center Mike Pouncey and guard Trai Turner both listed as questionable.
Lynn declared wide receiver Mike Williams “a game-time decision” due to a shoulder injury. Williams caught 10 touchdowns in 2018, and averaged more than 20 yards per reception en route to breaking the 1,000-yard mark in 2019.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, is on track to welcome back wide receiver A.J. Green for the first time since the 2018 season. Green missed the entire 2019 campaign with ligament damage in his ankle.
Green sustained a minor hamstring injury in training camp, but is listed as probable. His return coinciding with the debut of Burrow gives decided intrigue to a Bengals offense that ranked No. 26 in the NFL for yards gained a season ago.
“Joe, he’s going to be great for the next 15 years,” Green said in a press conference last month. “For him, it’s just getting that rhythm. We’re always talking: ‘How do you like this ball? How do you like this route?'”
–Field Level Media