Browning was making his second start after replacing Joe Burrow in the Nov. 16 game at Baltimore when Burrow tore a ligament in his right wrist. Prior to that, Browning had played four NFL snaps in his first season as a backup, which followed four years toiling on practice squads as an undrafted player coming out of the University of Washington.
“I haven’t played a lot of football but it’s not like I’m not used to winning,” Browning said in his postgame press conference, which the Bengals streamed live on social media. “I’ve won a lot of games in my career. None of them have been in the NFL until today, which is obviously noteworthy, but I’m used to winning. I’ve won a lot of football games in my life.”
Browning has joked about how the Bengals cut him twice – then signed him back to the practice squad – but they’ve shown their faith in keeping him around when other teams might have explored bringing in a more experienced backup when Burrow went down with his calf injury in training camp or more recently with his season-ending wrist injury.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor maintained his belief in Browning through a rough outing last week and said in his postgame press conference Monday night that he wasn’t surprised by his strong performance against Jacksonville.
“Awesome, outstanding,” Taylor said. “He had a great week of practice. I thought Thursday was outstanding and that’s really our big day, third-down day. I felt really good coming out this week, getting ready for this game. He just lit the world on fire. Halftime, I wasn’t sure if we had an incompletion, if the ball hit the ground yet. (I) thought he managed the game well. He was aggressive with some of his throws. Did a great job making plays with his feet. …
“So (I’m) just really proud of Jake and the job he did, and the guys rallying around him making plays for him, protecting him, run game getting going. It all helped Jake. Really proud of the team win, but really proud of Jake. In his second career start to come out here on Monday Night Football to do what he did is pretty cool.”
The Bengals struggled on third down in Browning’s first start against Pittsburgh on Nov. 26, but the lack of a running game put him in challenging spots, and that wasn’t the case Monday. Cincinnati rushed for 156 yards on 31 carries, both season highs, and got three touchdowns out of the ground attack — two from Joe Mixon and one from Browning.
Taylor said the gameplan started off a little conservatively as the Bengals tried to get a feeling for how Jacksonville was going to play, but Browning showed he was ready for a more aggressive approach as the first half continued.
“Once the game gets going and he’s completing balls like he is, it gives you the confidence, let’s just keep dialing this thing up,” Taylor said.
The score was tied five times, and the Bengals rallied from a 28-21 deficit to take a three-point lead with about 2:30 left before the Jaguars sent the game to overtime. Jacksonville had the ball first but ended up punting, thanks to a holding penalty that negated a big catch for Calvin Ripley, and Browning led the offense into field goal range for Evan McPherson’s winner.
Browning said he felt calm, despite the high-pressure situation on Monday Night Football.
“I don’t really know why,” Browning said when asked if that was just his natural confidence. “I think partially because it came down to the wire and I feel like I play my best football when I’m just calm and not really thinking about anything outside of what is in my control—which is just operating on offense and staying calm and delivering the ball to our playmakers.”
The Bengals now have their confidence back going into Sunday’s home game against Indianapolis. They have five games left to stay in the hunt amid the jumbled AFC standings.
“I think when you see that from a guy that’s never had the opportunity to show it before outside of Pittsburgh game, it gives a boost of confidence,” Taylor said. “There is no question about it. We’ve seen it every day and coached quarterbacks our whole life. We can see the intangible stuff and the preparation he puts in. But when he goes out there and he leads the team like he did, I certainly think it raises the entire confidence level of the team.”
Colts at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7