On a chilly December night in 2020, a young man named Ryan Finley stepped onto a field that was known as “Paul Brown Stadium” at the time and shocked the world on Monday Night Football.
Almost three years later, fans could only hope that history would repeat itself when one Jacob Christopher Browning was tasked with overcoming the 8-3 Jacksonville Jaguars again on Monday Night Football, this time on the road.
Well, it happened. Again. (Though Browning threw the ball exceptionally better than Finley.)
So what did we learn from the energizing and somewhat shocking win?
The Chase Brown hype was deserved
There were two things that needed to happen in this game, and they both did: Jake Browning had to find a rhythm and a version of the Joe Burrow offense that he could run. He did that (more later).
And Brown needed to get touches and capitalize on those opportunities, which he absolutely did to the tune of nine rushes for 61 yards (including a 31-yard scamper).
Not only that, but Joe Mixon played better than he had in weeks in part thanks to the threat of Brown, as the two formed a version of the classic thunder and lightning rushing combo.
The only hope for the offense surviving without Burrow was that the rookie running back would provide burst and fresh legs. And he looked about as burst-y and fresh leg-y as possible.
Jake Browning can get it done
Well, well, well. Less than a week after this writer got mocked for sharing ideas of how the Bengals can resuscitate their season with a backup QB, we get “the Jake Browning game” and hope is alive and well again.
On Monday Night Football on the road, Browning completed 32 of 37 passes for 354 yards and one long touchdown to Ja’Marr Chase. He also had a rushing touchdown and a massive 21-yard run on third down in the fourth quarter to set up a go-ahead field goal.
But let’s not get carried away here.
Zac Taylor babied Browning initially and had him throw very conservatively, barely beyond the line of scrimmage, to start the game. The head coach leaned into the run game to alleviate pressure on the QB making his second start. And it was a long dump off pass to Joe Mixon that got things going.
Then, when the run game picked up, Taylor allowed Browning to exploit the defense. And the confident Washington product was able to do so.
And that’s the recipe for success: let Browning take what’s there.
As well as Browning played against the Jaguars, he did so within his own limitations. Two of his biggest plays to Chase were slightly off target. The long touchdown was a little underthrown.
And Browning’s first real downfield play, a 17-yard completion early in the second quarter, was thrown behind Chase, who made a spectacular one-handed grab.
It was right after that play that Browning started throwing down the field with confidence, connecting with Trenton Irwin for 25 yards on the very next play and then with Tanner Hudson for 24 yards two plays later. And then he connected with Tee Higgins for 14 yards. At that point, he was on fire.
The point is, Browning had to be eased and supported into having a good game. And that’s okay. Not everyone is Joe Burrow. In fact, quarterbacks who take just a little longer to reset their feet and throw with high accuracy have been able to win a lot of games, even Super Bowls.
Browning is playing as well as you can expect from a backup, and as long as the Bengals don’t put too much weight on his shoulders, he can keep the passing game afloat.
Elite Tee Higgins probably isn’t coming back this year
Notice how we’ve just stopped evaluating Higgins, who was 1B to Chase’s 1A for two entire seasons?
He had a couple of big plays against Jacksonville, but he was far from impacting the game the way a top-10 receiver does.
Whether it’s the contract or the rib injury and missing time, he just isn’t dominating any more.
Of course, if the Bengals go on a little streak here and qualify for the playoffs, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Higgins step up in the postseason the way he did the previous two years and the way Jessie Bates did when he was distracted by the lack of a long-term contract.
Up next, the Bengals host the Indianapolis Colts. Browning will try to keep things going and help Cincinnati inch toward a third consecutive playoff berth.