LANDOVER — Just before Joe Burrow was carted off with a serious-looking knee injury, Chase Young went over to check on the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback. Once teammates at Ohio State before Burrow transferred to LSU, Young tapped Burrow on the helmet and told him to get better.
The Washington rookie defensive end was deflated. All week, he had been looking forward to facing Burrow, the player who went ahead of him in this year’s draft. But he didn’t imagine it would go like this, with the promising young star injured early in the third quarter.
“I was hurt because I know how badly Joe wants it,” Young said. “He’s a dude. I know Joe wanted it.” Burrow’s injury changed everything in Washington’s 20-9 win Sunday over the Bengals at FedEx Field.
Washington scored 13 unanswered in a methodical, Alex-Smith-led comeback to close to within a half-game of the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles.
Without their top signal-caller, the Bengals behind backup Ryan Finley and a shaky offensive line were overmatched by Young and the Washington defense.
Cincinnati now moves on with Burrow likely sidelined for the season — “see ya next year,” he tweeted after the game — while Washington celebrated its first win in almost a month.
As soon as Burrow went down, the game swung dramatically. Washington’s defensive line, after struggling with Burrow’s quick release, created plenty of pressure to sack Finley four times.
The offense, adjusting the gameplan, went with a run-heavy approach that controlled the tempo and produced points. Smith led three scoring drives, including a touchdown on Washington’s first possession following Burrow’s injury.
With the lead in hand, Washington bled the clock with a rushing attack that finished with 164 yards on 34 carries. Twenty-four of those attempts came after halftime.
Finley, meanwhile, completed just three of his 10 passes and threw an interception, a steep dropoff from Burrow’s performance (203 yards on 22 of 34 passing for a touchdown).
“You bring in the backup who doesn’t get the snaps and doesn’t know what to anticipate and stuff like that, the defense can take advantage,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “That’s what our defense did. … Good for them.”
Sunday was billed as a matchup between Young and Burrow — and it did not disappoint prior to Burrow’s injury.
Even before the game, Young appeared amped, hyping up his teammates around midfield in a pregame speech. He said he told them that out of 365 days, they only had 16 to “act like a dog” and urged them to play with passion. The speech fired up the group, with Young’s teammates jumping up and down around him.
Burrow gave Washington all that it could handle to start. Leading the Bengals to a 9-7 lead, he helped Cincinnati control the ball for most of the first half. He dissected Washington’s defense with a series of throws — short and long — as he hit targets like Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green.
Washington was fortunate to be only down two at halftime, as Cincinnati’s Randy Bullock missed three kicks— two field goals and an extra-point attempt — to keep Washington in the game.
For all of Burrow’s brilliance, Young answered with his own series of highlight-worthy plays, none more impressive than his clocking of a scrambling Burrow on fourth down. Chase lowered his shoulder for a violent collision that popped the ball loose near the goal line. After a chaotic sequence, Washington recovered the ball for the touchback.
The turnover was a small moment of redemption for Young, who had taken criticism for his late-game roughing-the-passer penalty that swung last week’s loss to Detroit.
“We all kind of feed off his energy,”pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan said of Young. “It’s impressive to see a guy with that kind of ability, that kind of talent, to be just as enthusiastic and lively as he is. That helps him personally to succeed on the field.”
The Young-Burrow showdown wouldn’t last much longer in the second half. With 11:41 left in the third, Burrow’s knees were taken out by defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, who was pushed into the quarterback. As soon as Burrow went down, he clutched his knee. In addition to Young, backup Dwayne Haskins and wideout Terry McLaurin — also former Buckeyes — rushed out on the field to console Burrow.
Burrow was the latest quarterback to suffer a serious injury at FedEx Field. Just three weeks ago, Washington starter Kyle Allen broke his leg. Smith, of course, and Robert Griffin III also suffered catastrophic leg injuries on its grass.
The injury overshadowed Smith’s own accomplishment: The 36-year-old picked up his first win in the two years since his injury. Coincidentally, Smith was wearing a throwback uniform similar to the one that Washington was wearing when the veteran went down in 2018 in a game against the Houston Texans. On Sunday, Smith was more of a game manager than the quarterback who threw for career highs the week prior. He chalked up just 166 yards on 17 of 25 passing, a touchdown and an interception.
“He never makes it about him,” said wideout Terry McLaurin, who led Washington receivers with 84 yards on five catches.
The win puts Washington in position to leap past the 3-6-1 Eagles — at least temporarily — if McLaurin and Co. can beat the Dallas Cowboys on a short turnaround when the two teams meet Thursday on Thanksgiving.
There’s a lot at stake.
“Thanksgiving, LeBron’s going to be watching,” Young said, referencing NBA star LeBron James. “Everybody is going to be watching. It’s that time to get that money. Fo’ Sho.”