Cincinnati quarterback Jake Browning stretches before heading into battle. If only he could remember to hydrate (photo credit Ryan Meyer/

By Dr. John Huang

(CINCINNATI, Oh.) – For professional athletes, the word freedom means you’re allowed to do the things you think you’re capable of doing on the field. Veteran NFL quarterbacks—like Tom Brady at the height of his Super Bowl prowess—have lots of freedom. You can run risky play action on first down or throw a fifty-yard bomb on third and one. You’ve earned the right to air it out and play to your abilities.

If you’re a rookie quarterback, however, the game plan may not grant you the same freedoms as that of a bona fide veteran signal caller. You’re often protected, coddled, and forced to throw quick outs and screen passes in order not to mess things up.

Is that the case with Jake Browning? Are the Bengals treating their first-year starter as a wet-behind-the-ears rookie quarterback? Are they restricting his freedom in any way? Not according to Bengals head coach Zac Taylor.

“I don’t look at him as a young guy,” Taylor said after Cincinnati’s workmanlike 34 – 14 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. “He’s been here now for three years—that’s old in this league. I feel like we have a veteran quarterback out there, just getting his first action in front of a whole stadium. This is why we’ve given him the opportunity to compete for the job. This is why he won the job, and this is why he stuck around for three years.”

On the bitterly cold and gloomily overcast afternoon, Browning completed 18-of-24 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns. However, 145 of those passing yards came on three huge plays. Two of them were screen passes—one that Chase Brown took 54 yards to the house, and the other to Joe Mixon that went for 45 yards.

“We called a lot of screens,” acknowledged Browning in the postgame presser. “And they all worked, but I think that was mostly because we thought they were going to work.”

In part due to the game plan, Cincinnati had this game firmly in control after nearly two quarters. Up 14 – 0 as the half wound down, the Bengals saw that two-touchdown lead disappear within a span of 25 seconds.

First, Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew hit tight end Mo Alie-Cox for a score just inside the two-minute warning. Then, on the ensuing possession, Browning’s pass slipped off the fingertips of Tanner Hudson and into the hands of Colts linebacker Ronnie Harrison Jr. for a 36-yard pick six. And just like that, Indianapolis tied the score at 14 heading into the locker room.

The Bengals came out like a team on a mission to begin the second half. The O-line rose to the challenge and provided Browning with nearly perfect protection, allowing no sacks and just three quarterback hits for the entire afternoon. The Bengals red-zone defense was stellar as usual. By the end of the third quarter, Cincinnati had recaptured a two-touchdown advantage and was able to cruise to the finish line.

The only blip in the entire second half came in the first minute of the fourth quarter when Browning came running off the field holding his right hand. As the entire stadium held their collective breath, Browning remained in the locker room for several minutes until the medical staff diagnosed his “injury” as only a muscle cramp.

“My thumb [and] forearm just all started cramping,” Browning explained. My thumb was just locking up on me. I couldn’t throw. Then, I came in and got an IV and was fine. Yeah, it’s pretty dumb, but I just have to drink more water and electrolytes, I guess. I think sometimes when it’s cold, you just aren’t thirsty. So, yeah, that’s probably the main takeaway from the game—hydrate better.”

Meanwhile Cincinnati’s newfound running game held its own for most of the contest. Joe Mixon rushed 21 times for 79 yards and a touchdown. Chase Brown chipped in an additional eight carries for 25 yards. If the Bengals are going to make a playoff push, then that dynamic duo will need to churn out plenty more production. The Bengals need to keep focusing on the ground attack.

That’s fine with Jake Browning. Just three games in, the Folsom, California, native seems to have enough freedom to do the things he thinks he’s capable of doing. Fortunately, he’s not having to throw many of those 50-yard bombs.

“We’re calling what gives us the best chance to win,” Browning acknowledged. “I think that’s how it should be, and that’s kind of been my communication [with coaches and teammates] throughout the whole thing. There are certain things that I like—more maybe than some things that Joe (Burrow) doesn’t—that I do, or whatever. That’s just personal preference. I think that gets taken into account when we’re putting together the game plan.”

As long as the Bengals keep winning, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of freedom within the game plan to go around.

With the win today, Cincinnati improves to 7 – 6 and is squarely back in the playoff hunt. Up next are the Minnesota Vikings (7 – 6). Game time is set for 1:00 pm on Saturday, December 16, at Paycor. See you there!

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist, military veteran, and award-winning author. He currently covers the Bengals’ beat for Sports View America. He is the author/coauthor of five books—Cut To The Chase, Kentucky Passion, From The Rafters Of Rupp, and Serving Up Winners. Check out his just-released new book, They Call Me Mr. Secretary, here 


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