Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow Took Different Paths to the AFC Championship


Burrow had just as many questions to answer about his football potential coming out of high school. He was in Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class as a three-star recruit, according to Rivals.com. He remained in Columbus until 2018, when he transferred to Louisiana State after Dwayne Haskins beat him out for the Buckeyes’ starting job.

As a graduate transfer, Burrow led the Tigers in 2019 to one of the most dominant seasons in college football history, going undefeated en route to a national championship win over Clemson.

Archie Manning, the former New Orleans Saints quarterback and father of former N.F.L. quarterbacks Peyton and Eli, developed a mentor relationship with Burrow in 2019 after he attended his football camp, the Manning Passing Academy, three years after Mahomes did.

“He handles himself real well, but it’s very obvious he wants to be a good player,” Manning said in an interview Wednesday. “And he believes he’s a good player.”

Burrow had a promising rookie season in 2020, with 13 touchdowns and over 2,600 passing yards in 10 games, but it was derailed when he tore multiple ligaments in his left knee. In his return this season, Burrow bounced back to throw for over 4,500 yards with a 70 percent completion rate, thanks in part to the Bengals having drafted his college teammate, Ja’Marr Chase, to be a frequent target.

“I think I am who I am because of the difficult times that I went through in my career,” Burrow said, “and if you look at the quarterbacks that were in the playoffs, a lot of them have gone through a lot of adversity throughout their careers, whether it was early on in high school without offers.”

The combination of Burrow and Chase, who set the single-game rookie receiving record (266 yards) against Kansas City earlier this month, pushed the Bengals into Super Bowl contention, an early sign of a successful rebuild in Cincinnati after years of mediocrity stamped by missing the playoffs. Sunday will be the Bengals’ first conference championship appearance in over 30 years.