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Brilliant Browning: Bengals Claw Their Way to .500

How about them Bengals?  Who saw that coming?

Yesterday’s Monday Night Football game was one for the ages.  It was thrilling, head-scratching, and unbearable – all at different times, and all in equal measure.  But, once the dust had settled, the Bengals had come through with a 34 - 31 overtime victory, securing a much-needed win over one of the AFC’s top dogs to stay in the Wild Card hunt.

It was just Jake Browning’s second-career NFL start, but you could be forgiven for thinking that was just Joe Burrow in disguise.  Browning was amazing on Monday night: 32/37 passing for 354 yards, 1 touchdown and zero interceptions.  It was the kind of performance most (including yours truly) didn’t think Browning could have.  I guess it’s time to pipe down on that front: the new JB for the Bengals can play.

Of course, the Bengals's win was more than just a great effort from their quarterback.  Go on down the line: the entire offense – every single position group and all the offensive coaches – had their best game.

Browning, obviously, crushed it.  Ja’Marr Chase was tremendous, hauling in 11 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown, including a 76-yard bomb that evoked fond memories of 2021.  Tee Higgins returned to action with three big catches, while Tyler Boyd (botched trick play aside) had a great game with five catches of his own.  The tight ends were involved too, catching a combined six passes for 58 yards.

But the run game…now that was a shocker.  This was the performance we’ve been waiting for, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.  31 times the Bengals ran the ball last night, which was nearly as many as the Bengals had attempted in their previous two games.  If the Bengals were going to defeat the heavily-favored Jags, they were going to need a complete game from their offense, and that’s exactly what they got.

Joe Mixon continued to run hard, a trend that’s been evident since Week One.  His elusiveness has clearly declined over the past couple of seasons, but he’s still a force with a full-head of steam.  An exciting development, though, was the emergence of rookie Chase Brown, who got nine carries against the Jaguars and turned them into a healthy 61 yards – nearly seven yards a carry!  It’s been a disappointing first half of the year for Brown, but if last night was any indication, he's ready to prove all of his doubters wrong – in a big way.

While last night was a huge reminder that the Bengals have more than enough talented skill players to keep themselves in the hunt, it was the work of the offensive line that really made the difference last night.  For the first time all year, the offensive line was outstanding.  The Bengals O-line opened holes and paved the way for an incredible outburst consisting of 153 yards and 3 touchdowns against a top ten Jaguars run defense.  In their hierarchy of surprises from last night, the Bengals run game falls short to only Mr. Browning himself.

Most of the credit, though, has to go to the coaching staff, in particular head coach Zac Taylor, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, and offensive line coach/run game coordinator Frank Pollack.  It hasn’t been an easy two weeks for these guys since Burrow went down.  They’ve had their decisions questioned, their resumé scrutinized and their gameplans eviscerated by the fanbase.  And last night, they silenced the ranting of every last whiny fan, and with gusto.  Taylor and Callahan worked with Browning to develop an offense that he was comfortable in, but also distinct from the offense that Burrow runs with such success.  Facing a Super-Bowl contender with a backup quarterback is typically a recipe for peak football embarrassment, but for Taylor and Co., it was an opportunity to show what this staff – and this team – are made of, some pretty strong stuff.

But before you start lobbing bricks at my head, yes, I know the two trick plays the Bengals ran ended up disastrously.  Yes, I thought Taylor got a little greedy with the second one (especially because it was the same freaking play).  But I don’t think it reflects poorly on the offensive coaches.  In fact, I applaud them for their aggressiveness.  If I had asked every Bengals fan before the game, “Would you rather the Bengals be extremely aggressive, or extremely conservative on Monday Night?” we all would know the answer to that question.

And while there were plenty of reasons to get excited – Browning looks like a real player, the O-line finally came through, the run game was excellent, the coaching was incredible – there are still plenty of areas left for improvement.  Namely, the defense still gives up way too many big plays.

Obviously, when you face an explosive offense like Jacksonville’s with an elite QB like Trevor Lawrence, it’s going to be hard to get stops.  But the Bengals still made frequent mistakes in coverage, and their inability to get anything close to a consistent pass rush on Lawrence was nearly a back-breaker.  If Lawrence hadn’t left the game late in the 4th quarter with an ankle injury, the end result could have been much different.

The result is the result, though.  The Bengals emerged from the Florida swamp with their second victory in the AFC and fought their way back to .500.  The season isn’t over, despite so many proclamations.  On Monday Night, the Bengals reminded the league that they won’t go away quietly.  This is still a team to be reckoned with – even if they now have a different JB taking snaps.

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1 Comment

Colton Conover
Colton Conover
Dec 06, 2023

Am I the whiny fan?

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