In a span of six days, Folsom High alumni Jake Browning has gone from Joe Burrow's little-known backup to the potential savior of the Bengals' season.
Making his third NFL start, the 27-year-old Browning was outstanding again on Sunday, throwing two touchdown passes and rushing for a score as Cincinnati beat the Indianapolis Colts 34-14.
With Burrow out for the season with a wrist injury, the Bengals seemed in danger of slipping into irrelevance before Browning threw for 354 yards and a touchdown in a win at Jacksonville last Monday night.
Browning's follow-up performance was just as good, and it kept the Bengals (7-6) in the mix for a playoff spot. He completed 18 of 24 passes for 275 yards with an interception against the playoff-contending Colts (7-6), whose four-game winning streak ended.
"He's playing his butt off," said Cincinnati receiver Tee Higgins, who caught two passes for 72 yards. "He's playing like a true No. 1 quarterback, and that's all you can ask for."
Gardner Minshew threw for 240 yards with a touchdown and an interception for the Colts, whose offense stalled after halftime.
The game was tied at 14-all at the break, but Indy's first four second-half possessions ended with two punts, a pick thrown by Minshew and a failed fourth-down attempt.
"A lot of self-inflected wounds," Minshew said.
Meanwhile, the Bengals scored on their first two drives of the second half — an 11-yard TD grab by Tanner Hudson and a 1-yard keeper by Browning.
"It was just one of those days," Indianapolis coach Shane Steichen said. "It was not our day. I have full confidence in that group in that locker room that we'll get it cleaned up."
Rookie running back Chase Brown had a 54-yard touchdown reception for the Bengals that opened the scoring. Brown grabbed a short pass out of the backfield and raced untouched down the right sideline, juking safety Rodney Thompson II at the 6-yard-line on the way to the end zone.
After Colts kicker Matt Gay bounced a 38-yard field goal attempt off the left upright, the Bengals scored again. Benefiting from two Indianapolis penalties, Cincinnati put together a 72-yard drive that Joe Mixon finished with a 1-yard TD plunge.
The Colts kept the ball for the next 8:22, and Minshew threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Mo Alie-Cox.
Indianapolis needed just 25 seconds to score again. Browning's off-target pass deflected off Hudson's hand and directly to Colts linebacker Ronnie Harrison Jr., who ran it back 36 yards for a TD.
Mixon rushed for 79 yards on 21 carries and had three receptions for 46 yards. Brown contributed 80 yards receiving and 25 yards rushing. Each scored a touchdown.
"It's a great feeling," Mixon said. "The vibes are up over here. Everybody's doing whatever they can to contribute to the team, and I feel like everybody's playing complementary football."
DEFENSE STEPS UP
Statistically, the Cincinnati defense is among the worst in the NFL, especially against the run. But the Bengals held the Colts to 46 yards rushing and shut out Indianapolis in the second half. The unit forced two turnovers and sacked Minshew three times. Trey Hendrickson had two sacks, giving him 13 1/2 for the season.
A DECENT JOE
Burrow provided his suite at Paycor Stadium to Browning, who invited family and friends from California to watch the game.
"Burrow was nice to give us tickets," Browning said. "It's better than sitting outside. We're from California and not used to the cold. Well, I am, but they're not."
Browning went to the locker room with muscle cramps in his throwing hand in the fourth quarter but returned. He said his hand was locking up because of the cramps but he was OK after getting intravenous fluids.
"It was embarrassing," he said.
Colts: Host Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Bengals: Host Minnesota on Saturday.
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