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QB Jake Browning 'lit the world on fire' in Bengals' season-saving win over Jaguars

All 2023 needed was The Jake Browning Game.

The Cincinnati Bengals' backup quarterback looked mediocre in his first two appearances replacing an injured Joe Burrow -- someone who might be able to run Zac Taylor's scheme but wasn't going to lift Cincy's offense.

Then, Monday night happened.

Browning diced up the Jacksonville Jaguars defense like a five-star Michelin chef, leading the Bengals to a 34-31 overtime win.

"He just lit the world on fire," Taylor told reporters after the contest. "At halftime, I wasn't sure we had an incompletion, if the ball had hit the ground yet. I just thought he managed the game beautifully well. He was aggressive with some of his throws, did a great job making plays with his feet …

"Just really proud of Jake and the job he did. And the guys rallying around him, making plays for him, protecting him, run game getting going. It all helped Jake. Really proud of the team win, but really proud of Jake in his second career start to come out here on Monday Night Football and do what he did today is pretty cool."

Cool was Browning in the pocket, never seeming rattled as he zipped passes on the money. The 27-year-old signal-caller finished 32-of-37 for 354 yards with a TD and zero turnovers for a 115.5 passer rating and scored a rushing touchdown.

Browning's 354 pass yards were the most by a Bengals QB in 2023. He became the 10th player in the Super Bowl Era to have 350-plus passing yards in a game with a completion percentage of 85-plus.

Making just the second start of his career, Browning's 86.5 completion percentage in Week 13 was the highest by a QB in one of his first two starts since 1950. He is the fourth player since at least 1950 with 350-plus passing yards, 1-plus pass TD, and 1-plus rush TD in one or more of his first two career starts (Mason Rudolph, Rob Johnson, Chad Pennington).

"He showed he's QB1 material," receiver Ja'Marr Chase said of Browning, per the team's official website.

The Bengals made plays for the former Washington Husky quarterback, who is in his third season in Cincinnati but nary sniffed a regular-season game before this year. Chase provided an explosive 76-yard TD on a beautiful pass and finished with 11 catches on 12 targets for 149 yards. Joe Mixon provided a solid running game and scored two TDs. Chase Brown popped a few nice gallops. Throw away two ill-advised WR passes (one losing 7 yards and the other a Tyler Boyd interception), and the Bengals offense was sterling on the road.  

Credit Taylor for a smart game plan that didn't expect Browning to play like Burrow, and the unproven QB made quick reads, didn't force the ball, and made accurate throws from the pocket and on the move.

"When he goes out there and leads the team like he did, it raises the entire confidence level of the team," Taylor said.

The win pushed Cincinnati to 6-6, keeping their playoff hopes alive in an extremely bunched AFC Wild Card race. The Bengals need repeat performances from Browning to finish an improbable comeback, but Monday kept them in the race.

"It means we're in the hunt," center Ted Karras said. "We're on the graphic and moving up."

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