MNF Spellbinder: Browning Leads Cincinnati to Big Win over Jaguars

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning (6) passes against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first quarter of Cincinnati's win in Jacksonville, Florida Monday, December 4, 2023.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning (6) passes against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first quarter of Cincinnati's win in Jacksonville, Florida Monday, December 4, 2023.

Cincinnati quarterback Jake Browning was magnificent in his second career start, and placekicker Evan McPherson kicked a 48-yard field goal in overtime to give the Bengals a win as thrilling as it was unlikely.

 

Though a tough setback for Jacksonville, the Jaguars suffered a potentially much bigger loss when star quarterback Trevor Lawrence left midway through the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. 

 

Jacksonville won the toss at the start of overtime, but was forced to punt after a holding penalty wiped out a 43-yard pass play to WR Calvin Ridley from C.J. Beathard, Lawrence’s replacement, that would have put the ball at the Cincinnati 2-yard line. After the Jaguars’ punt, Browning drove Cincinnati 42 yards to set up McPherson’s game-winning kick. 

 

Three weeks ago, a savvy promoter would have billed the then-looming matchup between Joe Burrow and Lawrence as the “Thrilla in Jacksonvilla.” But by night’s end, the game had become a battle of the backups.

 

Of course, Lawrence was around for most of the action. He exited the game with 5:43 left, and the game tied 28-28, after being stepped on by one of his own linemen. Beathard replaced him played the rest of the way. The initial diagnosis for Lawrence’s injury is an ankle sprain and, presumably, the Bengals medical staff will conduct an MRI as soon as Tuesday. Jacksonville already lost receiver Christian Kirk on the game's opening drive to a groin injury.

 

The Bengals know a thing or two about losing a franchise quarterback. But at least for tonight, when the lights shined their brightest, their replacement played lights out.

 

In his second start since Burrow’s season abruptly ended three weeks ago — heck, his second NFL start ever — Browning authored a performance as mesmerizing as any ever produced by a backup quarterback on Monday of Football. The ex-Washington Huskies’ star completed 32-of-37 passes (86.5 percent) for 354 yards and one touchdown. 

 

Browning exhibited a complete command of offensive coordinator Brian Callahan’s game plan, which helped out the QB by using six-man blocking schemes. Throwing short early, Browning began pushing the ball downfield more as the first half went along. No matter the throw's distance, Browning was razor sharp, completing 15 of his first 16 passes. 

 

Lawrence pretty much matched him, and the two teams went back and forth in what turned out to be one of the best matchups of the year. The game featured five ties — the most of any game in what has been a topsy-turvy, unpredictable season.

 

Deadlocked 14-14 at the half, the Bengals struck first in the third quarter on Browning’s lone TD pass of the game, a 76-yard bomb to Ja’Marr Chase, who recorded 11 catches and 149 receiving yards. Jacksonville responded, tying the game back up when rookie Parker Washington made a brilliant juggling catch of a Lawrence pass in the back of the end zone. 

 

In a well-played game, the two teams combined to commit just one turnover — but it was a doozy.

 

On the next Bengals possession, a trick play backfired miserably when Tyler Boyd took a lateral and tried to throw back across the field to Browning. But the wide receiver’s errant throw went right to Jacksonville defensive end Josh Allen for an interception. Jacksonville capitalized on the short field and scored when Lawrence lunged into the end zone from the 1-yard line.

 

But two possessions later, the Bengals bounced back to tie the game at 28, when Browning finished off a 48-yard drive with a one-yard run of his own. 

 

The Lawrence injury occurred on a third-down sack with Jacksonville at the edge of the Bengals’ red zone. (Lawrence finished 22-of-29 for 254 yards and two TD passes.) Jaguars’ placekicker Brandon McManus then missed a 48-yard field goal try, and the score remained knotted, 28-28, with just over five minutes left. 

 

From then on the two backup signal-callers went head to head. Browning used this legs to pick up 21 yards to the Jags’ 32-yard line. McPherson eventually banged through a 54-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a three-point lead. But back came Beathard and the Jacksonville offense, going 53 yards in the final minute and forcing overtime on a McManus' 40-yard field goal.

 

This was an inspiring win for the Bengals (6-6), whose season looked lost in the wake of Burrow’s injury. Browning’s remarkable performance must give the team and Cincinnati fans hope that a legitimate playoff run is within reach. The Bengals return home to take on Indianapolis, winners of four straight. 

 

For Jacksonville (8-4), the loss drops their lead over Indianapolis to just a game (so you know they will be rooting for Cincinnati next week). The Jaguars also fall a game behind Baltimore and Miami for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. They now go to Cleveland to face a Browns team made all the more dangerous coming off a loss.

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