Browning had spent his first four seasons in the league toiling on the practice squads for the Vikings and Bengals before winning the backup job over Trevor Siemian this preseason. Browning had played four NFL snaps prior to Burrow’s second-quarter wrist injury Thursday, on which he tore a ligament and will need surgery.
“It sounds weird, but it’s an opportunity for me,” Browning said. “So that part’s exciting. I’m obviously close with Joe, bummed to see him go down. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it sucks to have him out. He’s a big part of this team obviously. But I’m not gonna hide the fact that I’m excited for my opportunity. I think everybody in here, including Joe, kind of knows that.”
There’s no comparing the two quarterbacks. The Bengals drafted Burrow No. 1 overall in 2020 for a reason and made him the highest paid player in the game when they gave him his contract extension before the season. He’s been the key to their turnaround, both in his impact on the field, in the locker room and on the roster as others decided to come to Cincinnati in large part to play with him.
Browning, who came out of the University of Washington undrafted, hasn’t gotten a chance to prove himself yet, but other backups have stepped up and had success in the league – such as Josh Dobbs in Minnesota currently – and Browning believes he can be one of them.
“I don’t feel a lot of weight,” Browning said. “Maybe I’m the one off with that assessment. I don’t feel a lot of weight about anything. It’s day-by-day. Rep-by-rep. Kind of the main thing I was trying to do when I went into the Ravens game, one play at a time. Even some of those last drives we were down by a couple of scores: Don’t try to score 14 points in one throw. And I just keep staying on making the right reads and know that we’ve got a good offense and I’ve seen it operate at a high level. And I kind of know what it takes to do that.”
The bright side is Browning now has extra time to prepare for his first start Nov. 26 against Pittsburgh, thanks to the Thursday night game this week.
Browning said the team seems to be taking a “rally around the guy that’s getting a chance” mentality following the news of Burrow’s injury. He’s taking a modest approach to the expectations he faces, and he is not about to make any wild promises, mainly because isn’t concerned with reassuring anyone worried about the fate of the team without Burrow.
“That’s fine,” Browning said. “I think I would be doing myself a disservice if I started hopping into all the different narratives of a good player going down. Not really my job. My job is to keep trying to get better, focus on the day-to-day, week-to-week and game-to-game. It sounds kind of repetitive, but there’s a lot of different ways your mind can go. If you take everything and just narrow it down to, hey, here’s what I really need to focus on, here’s what actually matters, and everything else kind of falls into place.”
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Browning has shown he can run the offense without big changes being made, and he did some good things Thursday night, despite coming in cold off the bench and not having practice reps in a short week. Browning ran for 12 yards on his first snap and converted a third-down pass to Trenton Irwin after avoiding a sack, but the play was overturned on a review that determined Irwin didn’t have control of the ball when he rolled over it making the catch.
Had that play stood, perhaps the outcome of the game could have been different. Instead, the Ravens responded with a second straight touchdown drive to take a 21-10 lead into halftime, six minutes after Burrow had given the Bengals a 10-7 advantage. Browning added a “garbage time” touchdown pass to Ja’Marr Chase at the end of the 34-20 loss, but Taylor saw a lot of confidence in how he played.
“That’s a big part of the battle playing quarterback is you put in the work to have confidence in yourself,” Taylor said. “It’s not just false hope, it’s not just you get out there and put on a brave face trying to trick everyone into thinking you know what you’re doing. Jake has done that, and he’s shown that through his actions, he’s shown that through his ability to bond with everyone in the locker room. I think guys think really highly of Jake and respect the work he puts in. … And that’s prepared him to go into a moment like this.”
Sunday, Nov .26
Steelers at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7