SANTA CLARA — Nick Bosa played along and gave the automated response you’d expect of any sack artist.
The question: Are there any quarterbacks you hate?
“All of them,” Bosa replied with a light laugh.
An exception to The Anti-Quarterback Club is the one he’ll pursue this week: Joe Burrow, a former Ohio State teammate and Sunday’s host with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“Three years at Ohio State together, the same group friends,” Bosa recalled last week. “We would always go out together after games, hang out in the dorms my freshman year.
“We were good buddies from the beginning.”
Those years were 2016-18. Then Burrow transferred to LSU, where he won the national championship in 2019, before becoming the Cincinnati Bengals’ pick with last year’s No. 1 pick.
Last year at this time, both Bosa and Burrow were recovering from season-ending knee surgery. Both had their anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments reconstructed in their left knees. Both had work done by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles. And both Bosa and Burrow are strong candidates to surpass the favored Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys) for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.
Now Burrow is battling a new injury. He dislocated the pinkie finger in his right, throwing hand during Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Burrow plans to play through the pinkie’s discomfort, noting that it will “take some tweaking,” such as gripping the ball harder. He’ll also be bracing for a potentially painful, backfield reunion with Bosa.
“I think I’d prefer to see him in the offseason and hang out with him then,” Burrow told Cincinnati-area reporters Wednesday.
Just before Burrow got drafted last year, he was asked what player he’d talk trash to in the NFL, and he’ll get his first chance Sunday as the Bengals (7-5) and the 49ers (6-6) strive for the playoffs.
Joe Burrow meets with the media as the Bengals prepare to face the San Francisco 49ers. https://t.co/2UN6bLQRc1
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 8, 2021
“Nick Bosa, I’ll talk some trash to Nick,” Burrow said in that April 2020 interview with Bleacher Report. “Because his trash talk is super weird. Like he’ll say something like, ‘Oh you gotta throw the ball away on that one buddy,’ or something like that when he sacks you. It’s super weird.”
Their playful banter goes back years. When Burrow announced he was transferring from Ohio State – after Dwayne Haskins beat him out for the starting job – Bosa playfully taunted him on Twitter.
“Can’t wait to sack you,” Bosa tweeted, followed by emojis symbolizing a grimacing face and a hang-loose hand.
When Bosa got drafted by the 49ers on April 23, 2020, his guests at the NFL’s festivities in Nashville included Burrow, as well as another of their Ohio State buddies, Sam Hubbard, who has 7 ½ sacks and 14 quarterback hits this season for the Bengals’ defense.
The 49ers need a big game out of Bosa. They are 0-3 when when he doesn’t record a sack. He’s otherwise produced a career-high 12 sacks to go along with 26 quarterback hits, 16 tackles for loss and three forced field goals.
“They’ll move him around,” Burrow said of his scouting report on how the 49ers use Bosa. “It’s tough to say. I’m sure they have a reason for it. I haven’t quite figured it out yet. You just always have to be alert for where he’s going to be.”
Sacked 36 times this year, Burrow said he’s “disappointed” in throwing too many interceptions, a NFL-high 14. He’s completing 68 percent of his passes, he’s thrown 23 touchdowns and he’s complemented by one of the league’s most up-and-coming supporting cast, with running back Joe Mixon (978 yards) and wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase (958 yards), Tee Higgins (698 yards) and Tyler Boyd (556 yards).
No matter how impacted Burrows’ accuracy is with his pinkie problem, all he has to do is air it out and hope for a penalty. The 49ers have been flagged for defensive pass interference 19 times; their most in a season since at least 1999.
A strong push by Bosa and others will help the 49ers compensate for cornerback concerns, compounded by Emmanuel Mosely (ankle) being unable to play.
At least one 49ers teammate knows Bosa’s potential, having heard what a studious defender he is.
“Bosa is kind of quiet in general, but when you get him talking a little bit and he starts talking about techniques and stuff like that, there’s a lot going on up there,” Jimmy Garoppolo said. “I mean, he really is breaking down the game inside and out, the pass rush, the coverage, all this stuff tied together. He’s very in tune with it.
“But yeah, I mean, when you have a guy that could do what he does and he’s that tuned into the details at the same time, that makes for a special player.”