Even the most optimistic of Cincinnati Bengals fans couldn’t have imagined the team still in the playoff hunt once Joe Burrow went down with a shredded right wrist. Now, Ja’Marr Chase is out for this Sunday’s upcoming game against the division rival Steelers. Just don’t expect Jake Browning to miss a beat, because he’s embracing the opportunity of a lifetime like it is literally that. Because it is.
And it’s one that has eluded Browning through multiple NFL seasons of repeatedly getting cut, being relegated to practice squad duty, and having no earthly idea when he’d get a chance to really prove himself. Welp. Browning has taken the ball and run with it.
He also proved in last Saturday’s thrilling overtime win over his ex-team, the Vikings, that he can channel vengeance into on-field productivity. “SHOULD’VE NEVER F*CKING CUT ME!” launched Browning’s star into a new stratosphere.
“YOU SHOULD HAVE NEVER 🤬 CUT ME”
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“You just line us up, and we believe in our chance to win any football game. Anybody you put across from us right now. … We’ve figured out a way to do it with Jake right now and we’re going to keep doing it.”
A lot from Dan Pitcher, the #Bengals QB coach, inside.
That first quote is from left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who defected from the the Chiefs in free agency after winning a Super Bowl. Brown couldn’t have been thrilled to see Burrow go down. Even if Kansas City is struggling this year more than usual, the move could’ve abruptly blown up in his face if Browning wasn’t up to snuff.
The “Keep dreaming, baby!” line comes from veteran Bengals safety Michael Thomas, who’s more of a special teams ace. Thomas shouts that at Browning to make sure he focuses on the task at hand, and doesn’t get in his head whilst going about his business. That business is starting off as the first QB in NFL history to complete 75% of his passes and throw for over 1,000 yards in his first four career starts.
Not that Browning needs reminders about making the most of his unexpected shot in Burrow’s stead. He told Go Long just how significant every start feels.
“I know there’s not a ton of opportunities just being handed out. This is really the first one I’ve had in four years, so I didn’t really care about all that. For me, it’s an opportunity to play. All of these games feel like the Super Bowl a little bit.”
Nickel corner extraordinaire Mike Hilton has a certain chip on his shoulder like his new starting QB. Hilton feels like the outside world gives little credit to the rest of Cincinnati’s team for the franchise’s rapid ascent in the Burrow era:
“From top to bottom…we have a Super Bowl roster. We took it to heart. Obviously, outside this locker room, everybody thinks we’re nothing without Joe, but people don’t realize there are 52 other guys that helped this team get to where they are. We all contribute in different type of ways, but we all also know we have the confidence to finish the season out the way we’re supposed to.”
Stumbled upon Hilton doing a recent spot with Jim Rome, too. Love it.
I mean, if it ain’t self-evident, I’m a Bengals guy. It’s known that Hilton talks a big game, and more often than not, backs it up. My issue with the team as it’s currently constructed is how bad the defense has been by their typical standards. Cincinnati gives up 4.7 yards per carry against the run — during the active three-game winning streak, it’s only 3.6 thankfully — and eight yards per pass attempt. Only Denver is worse against the run. That high yield against the pass matches the Commanders for the worst in the league.
Given how Joe Brrr’s calf injury that got him off to a terrible start to the year, it’s borderline unbelievable that Cincinnati even managed a 5-4 record before he went down for the season. Even harder to believe is how Browning has managed to keep the team afloat and even overcome some of the defense’s shortcomings.
Star defensive tackle DJ Reader is out the rest of the way with a torn quad, too. I shudder to think what defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s group will look like without him.
DJ Reader is literally the only pending free agent the Bengals must keep. Like the one guy you cannot afford to lose. Now looks like a serious knee injury. Was Joe Burrow going down not enough for the football gods? This is like the worst injury season of all-time across the NFL pic.twitter.com/srwKXgAoSe
My hope is that Lou has been saving his best stuff for the stretch run. Somehow, the Bengals are in sixth place in a crowded AFC postseason race, with road trips to Pittsburgh and Kansas City preceding a showdown with the Browns’ No. 1 defense in the regular-season finale. I was ready to count Browning and the Bengals out once Burrow stormed off the field in anger during that Thursday night loss to Baltimore. I know better now! And this team genuinely believes.