One game was funny. Kinda like the Ryan Finley game.
But then Jake Browning came back after a historic performance on Monday Night Football to win your average Sunday 1 PM contest. Methodically.
There should remain no doubt that he can play and win in the NFL. Is he a top QB? Way, way too early to know. But he can certainly operate Zac Taylor’s offense and let his playmakers make plays.
So what did we learn from the Bengals’ second straight win, a 34-14 trouncing of the Indianapolis Colts?
This team does not get fazed
The Bengals were on the verge of heading into halftime up 14-0. Then the Colts went for it on 4th and one at the Cincinnati two yard line, and Gardner Minshew threw a touchdown.
Two plays later, an off-target pass from Browning resulted in a batted ball and a pick six.
All of a sudden it was a tie game.
This quick turnaround was similar to the previous week, when a near interception by Dax Hill in the endzone resulted in a Jacksonville Jaguars touchdown and then a freak interception thrown by Tyler Boyd gave the Jaguars the ball at the Cincinnati nine yard line, from which they’d take a 28-21 lead.
But Browning and the team stormed back. They did it by pounding the rock, getting Tanner Hudson involved in the short passing game, and taking the occasional deep shot to Tee Higgins.
In both contests, the Bengals were on the verge of breaking the game open but were stopped in their tracks. But in both games, they came back to win the game. Against the Colts, they even ended up getting their blowout.
Cincinnati’s screen game has become a major threat
Chase Brown had a 54-yard score through the air and 80 yards receiving total. Joe Mixon took a pass 45 yards. And last week, Mixon took a pass 28 yards.
Bengals winning with the screen passes. This one to Joe Mixon. pic.twitter.com/glVN7MtVr3— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 11, 2023
Without Joe Burrow, the chunk yards in the passing game are coming in a variety of ways. And the screen game, largely thanks to the emergence of Brown, has become a major asset. Browning has done a nice job of keeping his composure and dumping the ball off in a nice rhythm with his running backs, who now, with good downfield blocking, know exactly what to do with it.
The offensive line is hitting its stride
The running game is finally functional thanks to the combination of Brown and Mixon. But the Bengals also did not allow a sack against the Colts. More importantly, Browning was only hit three times and had a lot of clean pockets.
Hearing "TEEEEEEE" echo in the stadium > pic.twitter.com/P2391fO7zh— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) December 11, 2023
There are a few factors at play here. First of all, the same thing happened last year, when the offensive line played great down the stretch until suffering some unfortunate injures.
Second of all, Taylor has scaled down the passing game, thrown in more screens, started running more, and left more people in to protect Browning. The QB, for his part, has gotten the ball out quickly and—since his poor performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers—stopped trying to be Joe Burrow, meaning, he’s not playing hero ball at all.
Up next, the Bengals will face a Minnesota Vikings team that is struggling at QB. Will the defense step up again to make it three straight wins? We’ll find out soon.