Bengals QB Jake Browning has no plans to be a one-hit wonder

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning was working out when he got the news.

On Wednesday, one of the team's strength coaches came over and told him congratulations. Browning initially thought it was just a general sentiment for his historic performance in Monday's 34-31 overtime win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Then he was informed he was this week's AFC Offensive Player of the Week.

"My first thought was, luckily Deebo is in the NFC," Browning said, referencing San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who won the same honors in the league's other conference.

But it's hard to argue anyone had a better week than Browning. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Browning was the first undrafted player in the common era (since 1967) to have more than 350 passing yards and complete at least 85% of his passes.

A deeper look at the numbers show just how much Browning improved from his first career start on Nov. 26 against Pittsburgh and his game eight days later against the Jaguars. Ahead of Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts, he knows the importance of making sure he isn't a one-game wonder.

"I would like to reiterate that it was one good game," Browning said Wednesday. "So let's stack some of those back to back and not just be the guy who had a good Monday night game and then just kind of fell off. I'm very paranoid about that."

Browning was 32-of-37 passing for 354 yards and accounted for two touchdowns as the Bengals snapped a 14-game road losing streak in prime-time games, the longest drought in league history. Browning's 86.5% completion percentage was the highest ever for a quarterback making his first or second NFL start, according to ESPN Stats & Info. What makes it even more notable is the leap in improvement from his first start.

Before Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending wrist injury in a Week 11 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Browning had thrown just one regular-season pass since he entered the league in 2019. In Weeks 11 and 12 combined, Browning was 27-of-40 passing for 295 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

While Browning is unofficially in his fifth NFL season, he spent his first four years on practice squads -- two years with the Minnesota Vikings and the past two with the Bengals. It wasn't until this season that he became a No. 2 quarterback.

Despite his spot on the depth chart over the years, Browning was exhaustive in his midweek preparation. When Browning was named the starter, that work ethic was cited as something that could help him be successful.

That is evident in some of the eye-popping numbers Browning posted against the Jaguars. Browning's accuracy was perhaps the most impressive thing. Bengals coach Zac Taylor said that of his five incompletions, two were dropped passes by receivers. Two were throwaways and another was a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage.

On third downs against Jacksonville, Browning was 9-of-11 for 143 yards and six first downs. It was the most third-down passing yards by a Bengals quarterback since Burrow posted 165 against the Colts in Week 6 of the 2020 season.

He was also great in pushing the ball downfield. He was 7-of-7 passing for 170 yards and a touchdown on throws of 10 or more air yards, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That's the most by any Bengals quarterback since ESPN started tracking air yards in 2006.

Bengals quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher said Browning's preparation is a big factor for some of those impressive metrics.

"It's not that he put in any more effort," Pitcher said. "It's just you learn things about yourself. Your coaches [and teammates] learn things about you. It's a natural process that can only really occur when you're playing real football."

Over the course of the week, Browning got a feel for what he was comfortable executing within Taylor's game plan. Browning took one of the 200 playcalls off the sheet in one of the midweek meetings with Taylor. Over the years, the Bengals' coach has allowed his quarterbacks to make adjustments within the structure of the game plan. That freedom comes with a mutual trust.

"He has earned that right to be able to communicate that way," Taylor said. "And so we put a lot of value in what he says."

Cincinnati (6-6) is trying to extend its postseason streak to three consecutive seasons and will need Browning to play well down the stretch. And as the accolades and praise have piled up throughout the week, Browning has tried to stay as steady as possible as Cincinnati faces its final five games of the regular season.

"I think I stay pretty levelheaded," Browning said. "But I would say the fear of one-off does not motivate me.

"But I'm definitely aware of the fact that it was one good game, and I would like to have more than that. I would like to have a good game every time."