Joe Burrow's team is on a path that has proven to be destined for the Super Bowl, but it hasn't come without its fair share of bumps and bruises.
Despite averaging the sixth-fastest time to throw in the NFL, Burrow has been sacked more than any other quarterback this season (51 times). That reality hasn't proven to be fatal -- at least not yet -- as Burrow weathered nine sacks in the Divisional Round and still found a way to lead the Cincinnati Bengals to a last-second victory over the top-seeded Tennessee Titans.
A week later, he was sacked just once, and the Bengals overcame an 18-point deficit to upset the defending AFC champion Chiefs in Kansas City.
The key to beating the Bengals to this point hasn't been getting after Burrow, even if it defies modern football logic. But that could change in Super Bowl LVI when Burrow's Bengals face a ferocious Los Angeles Rams defense that includes all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald and veteran edge rushers Leonard Floyd and Von Miller.
"They're a very good defensive front," Burrow said Monday during Super Bowl LVI Opening Night. "It's going to be a challenge for our guys, but they've worked really hard to put themselves in this position. And I know that our coaching staff has a great plan for them that they're going to be able to go out and execute. But obviously, guys like Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, Von Miller are guys that are going to get pressure."
These Rams have certainly gotten pressure to this point. After finishing the regular season with the team's lowest QB pressure rate of the Next Gen Stats era (dating back to 2016), the Rams have compiled a quarterback pressure rate of over 31 percent in the playoffs, and they've harassed every quarterback they've faced in the postseason to this point. Kyler Murray, Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo all faced the third-highest or higher pressure rate in a single game in their individual careers against Los Angeles in these playoffs, and the Rams are allowing an incredibly low opposing passer rating of 10.8 when they register a pressure.
Miller has turned around his season, recording 14 QB pressures in the playoffs and tying with San Francisco's Nick Bosa for the most among postseason participants. He's nearly doubled his QB pressure rate from the regular season to the playoffs, improving from 9.8 percent to 18.4 percent.
Donald has been steady as usual, ranking fourth in the NFL with 77 QB pressures (including playoffs), though his 11 percent pressure rate is his lowest in the Next Gen era.
The numbers don't lie: The Rams have been getting after opposing quarterbacks and are reaping the benefits. They'll hope to implement the same approach against an incredibly cool quarterback in Burrow.
Burrow was a sharp passer under pressure before the Bengals reached the postseason, posting a passer rating over 94 and a completion percentage over expected of +8.7 percent. Both were top-three marks in the NFL in the regular season.
But since the playoffs began, Burrow hasn't been as effective when under duress. His completion percentage over expected has fallen to -6.4, while his passer rating has dropped drastically to 40. The right side of the Bengals' line has proven to be a weakness, with guard Hakeem Adeniji -- who is still fairly new to the position -- and tackle Isaiah Prince each ranking in the bottom 10 in pressure rate allowed at their respective positions, per Pro Football Focus. Cincinnati has even turned to rookie Jackson Carman to replace Adeniji at times with the hopes of improving their pass-blocking efforts.
Still, the Bengals have found ways to win in at least two games in which Burrow was sacked five or more times, going 2-4 in such contests. Both victories came on last-second field goals.
"It's going to be how, one, I handle the pressure -- how I'm able to get the ball out of my hands and get it to my playmakers in space," Burrow said. "And two, how we're going to be able to handle them up front. I have the utmost confidence in our offensive line to make it happen."
Much of that has to do with Cincinnati's defense, which stiffened in the second half of the AFC Championship Game to buy the Bengals time to mount a comeback. It also has to do with Burrow's calm nature even in the face of significant pressure, which is remarkable when considering Burrow is the first quarterback to be sacked 50-plus times in the regular season and reach the Super Bowl in NFL history, and is also the first quarterback to be sacked 12 times in the playoffs since Donovan McNabb in 2003.
That number 12 might be magical: It's the same total for most sacks taken by a quarterback who went on to win the Super Bowl. Jim Plunkett (1980) and Bart Starr (1967) share that strange accomplishment.
Burrow could be the third if he avoids being sacked Sunday. The numbers say that likely won't be the case, but if he does emerge victorious while also taking at least one sack, he'll make additional history.