Browning will face off against Trevor Lawrence as the Bengals (5-6) take on the AFC South-leading Jacksonville Jaguars (8-3) in primetime Monday. Coach Zac Taylor has called it a “perfect opportunity to change the narrative” about the team coming off a three-game skid, and for Browning, it’s another chance to show himself as a capable fill-in for Joe Burrow when needed.
“I think it’s an opportunity to go into a game where I’ve already been through a week as the starter,” Browning said. “You know, just even like a ... practice felt somewhat smoother today versus last week, where you kind of are like, ‘What is this all gonna look like?’ Now I have a full week of that. And I think I also just keep going back to the fact that, I think it’s (Week 14), but this is like week two for me, week three. So, you know, early on in the season, everybody’s getting a lot better. And they kind of hit a certain point where they kind of plateau. I’m not at my plateau. And so, for me those practice reps were really important. Every rep in the game, you know, getting a takeaway from is really important just continue to get better.”
Cincinnati has been relying on Browning since the second quarter of the Week 12 game at Baltimore when Burrow tore a ligament in his right wrist. Up until that point, the four-year practice squad quarterback and first-year backup only had four NFL snaps, but he got his first start last week in a 16-10 loss to Pittsburgh.
Browning got plenty of reps in the preseason that he can draw from, but he’s quickly learning how different an NFL regular season is.
“I’ve always heard there’s three different speeds,” Browning said. “There’s preseason, regular season and playoffs. I think the variety post-snap and when a defense has a whole week to prepare for exactly what they want to do against you, there’s some difficult looks post-snap, there were some times where we got something called into a certain look or expecting something. We don’t get that and I need to do a good job of getting the ball out quickly to my checkdown or something underneath to give them a shot to go get it instead of holding on and trying to make something happen scrambling too much.”
Browning said not only does he feel like practice went more smoothly Thursday, which is the normal Wednesday routine ahead of a Sunday game, the conversations throughout the week are a little more comfortable as well.
Last week, the coaches were asking what he felt comfortable with in the playbook and his response was to “call what you think will work and we’ll roll with it.” But then as he got into the game and experienced it, he realized some things worked better than others. Now he has those notes to draw from and can share that with the staff.
“As we continue to get more games around the plan, the offense will kind of morph into whatever we’re doing well,” Browning said. “We’ve done that even with Joe. I’ve been on the sidelines and in meetings where we kind of morph the offense into ‘OK, this is what we’re good at right now and what gives us the best chance to win.’ Maybe that’s different than in years past. And I think that changes even more with a new quarterback.”
Jacksonville is among the bottom five in the NFL in passing defense, allowing 255.0 passing yards per game, but Browning said the Jaguars do a good job disguising their coverages and bringing “random pressures” so he will have to be ready to adjust and get the ball out quicker than he did last week against another stout defensive line from Pittsburgh.
The expected return of wide receiver Tee Higgins this week should help Browning, though. Higgins, in his first interview since his Nov. 8 hamstring injury, said the “plan” is for him to play Monday night. He’s missed three games.
Browning is looking forward to another weapon in his arsenal.
“Tee’s one of the top receivers in the NFL,” Browning said. “I don’t think you can really put it into words how important he is to this offense. I think we have a really good receiver room and I don’t want to take away from (them). I think Andrei (Iosivas) has continued to play really well. Trenton Irwin has proven he can do it. But there’s something that Tee brings to the table, being as big, as fast and having the experience he does, where it’s always nice to have him and Ja’Marr (Chase) on the outside.”
Bengals at Jaguars, 8:15 p.m., ESPN, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7