Even after losing Super Bowl LVI, the Cincinnati Bengals have a lot to be optimistic about. That optimism starts with their quarterback, Joe Burrow. But to see that optimism come to fruition, the Bengals and Burrow will need to reverse a rather startling trend.
None of the 16 quarterbacks before Burrow to lose their first Super Bowl start have made it back to the big game, at least not as a starter.
Will Joe Burrow buck this very extensive trend? pic.twitter.com/tBhfU99JW5
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) February 16, 2022
So, how does Burrow stack up to these guys? He’s got much better odds than a few of these quarterbacks had, something we can say even without the benefit of hindsight.
Given where they were in their respective careers and how they played in the Super Bowl, Stan Humphries, Neil O’Donnell and Chris Chandler were never expected to make it back. Kerry Collins and Rex Grossman were similar, but both were relatively young at the time of their loss. Burrow is far more likely to make it back than any of them were.
There are some surprises here, though. With the possible exception of Rich Gannon (who was 37 at the time of his loss but also won the MVP that season), everyone else here could be described as a star quarterback either in his prime or on the rise at the time of his Super Bowl loss. Three of these quarterbacks (Gannon, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan) won the MVP during their Super Bowl losing seasons.
Based on where they were in their respective careers, the closest comparisons to Burrow would be Colin Kaepernick and Jared Goff.
Kaepernick was in his second NFL season and first as a starter (though he didn’t become the starter until November) when the San Francisco 49ers lost Super Bowl XLVII. Goff, meanwhile, was in his third NFL season when the Los Angeles Rams lost Super Bowl LVIII. Kaepernick’s career (or lack thereof) has been well documented. Goff is still active.
Jake Delhomme, Donovan McNabb, Kaepernick and Jimmy Garoppolo all started in a conference championship game after their losses. Of that group, Kaepernick and Garoppolo’s teams came the closest to winning, but ultimately fell short. Outside of Drew Bledsoe and O’Donnell (who both returned as backups), that’s as close as any of the previous quarterbacks to lose their Super Bowl debut has gotten to returning.
Of course, Burrow isn’t the only quarterback who can buck this trend. Garoppolo, Goff, Newton and Ryan are all still active.
So, who was the most recent quarterback to lose his Super Bowl debut and return to the game? That would be Jim Kelly. Kelly and the Buffalo Bills lost Super Bowl XXV. They returned to the Super Bowl in each of the next three seasons, famously (or infamously) losing every time.
The last quarterback to lose his Super Bowl debut and later win a Super Bowl was John Elway. Elway and the Denver Broncos lost Super Bowl XXI. He would endure two more losses in Super Bowls XXII and XXIV before returning to the big game and winning it in Super Bowl XXXII.
There’s plenty of reason to think that Burrow will get back to the Super Bowl at some point. But to do so, decades of history will have to be reversed.