Despite Jake Browning's star turn, one QB isn't enough these days
Confetti from an NFL weekend.
The new kid in town is Jake Browning. He played four years at Washington, set the school passing records, played in a Rose Bowl. He was undrafted and spent two years with Minnesota, then was in his second year with Cincinnati before he took a competitive NFL snap. That was in September, but in November the One Play happened, the one that sidelines one quarterback, activates another, tortures fans, changes paths.
Joe Burrow tore a ligament in his wrist. Jake Browning, this is your life.
Either you’re ready or you’re not. Browning wasn’t able to beat Baltimore that night. Last week he couldn’t beat Pittsburgh. On Monday night the Bengals went to Jacksonville and Browning finally gained a foothold. He went 32 for 37, connected with Ja’Marr Chase on a 76-yard touchdown, and arranged for the winning field goal in overtime.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence was starting his 45th consecutive game. Whether he gets to 46 is doubtful. His ankle gave way just before the vortex arrived, with 5:43 left in regulation, and Lawrence angrily beat the ground with his fist. He was helped off the ground and is said to have suffered a sprained ankle.
Jacksonville’s new kid is C.J. Beathard, grandson of Bobby, the Hall of Fame NFL executive. He’s actually 30 and has started 12 NFL games. At Iowa, he quarterbacked a team that went 12-0 in the regular season. And after he fumbled on his first play Sunday, Beathard was 9-for-10, and his long connection with Calvin Ridley, which could have set up a win, was canceled by Anton Harrison’s holding penalty.
Cincinnati won, 34-31, and broke a 3-game winning streak. It got a solid running game from Joe Mixon and, for once, used him as a receiver. The Bengals are back to 6-6 and have hope again. After all, the only healthy starting QB in the AFC North is Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson.
Jacksonville could have moved into the top spot in the AFC matrix with a win. As it is the Jaguars are 8-4, and their season probably tilts on an MRI.
Fifty-three different quarterbacks have started NFL games this season, including four Browns, three Giants, three Jets and three Vikings. That will be 54 if Beathard replaces Lawrence next week.
It really isn’t due to escalated violence. Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles before anyone hit him. Sam Howell of the Commanders has been sacked 58 times and is still on his feet. The roughing-the-passer penalty guidelines have now been extended to include stepping on toes and verbal microaggressions.
It’s more a problem with the trends of the game itself, not just in the NFL. Clearly the defensive players are better than the offensive players these days, particularly when it comes to the pass rush. You see far more intentional grounding calls now, because the QB’s decision-making wheel is sped up by the attackers. Offensive linemen are generally helpless, except for the ones on the best teams, like San Francisco and Philadelphia. They aren’t very good run blockers because fewer college teams believe in the run, so pro teams have trouble laying a running foundation, which leads to more dropbacks and more pass rush and more chances to get hurt.
The proliferation of empty backfields and four, sometimes five, receiver sets does not help. Neither does the disappearance of the fullback. The 49ers, again, are ahead of the game because they use Kyle Juszczyk creatively. Baltimore has Patrick Ricard, who tips the Toledos at 310 pounds. But their main job is to safeguard the quarterback, the way Daryl Johnston did on Jimmy Johnson’s best Dallas teams. Unfortuantely fullbacks are even more dormant, if not extinct, in college. They have to be moved from another position, not draffted.\But fullbacks are hard to find on the lower levels.
Quarterbacks like to run these days, and that’s dangerous, too.
The league isn’t getting any slower. So teams need to adjust. They can no longer afford to award all the practice reps to the veteran QB. They have to invest in the backup. And if they do have a Jake Browning, they need to know what that means before the bell rings. The Bengals might have gotten lucky to have someone as commanding as Browning, serving as the next man up. If they stay lucky, he won’t be the next man down.
Confetti from an NFL weekend:
San Francisco 42, Philadelphia 19
– It suddenly seems as if the Eagles, 10-2, are suddenly chasing the 49ers, 9-3. It wasn’t much of a chase on Sunday in Philadelphia. San Francisco had four plays that exceeded 30 yards and, beginning in the third quarter, scored six touchdowns on six consecutive possessions. It also was 4-for-4 in the red zone and went 8 for 11 on third down.
– Concerns about Philadelphia’s defense are accelerating. The Eagles gave up 34 in an overtime win over Buffalo last week and gave up 31 twice to the relatively punchless Commanders. They also have sacked quarterbacks only four times in the past three years, and their last three opponents are 29 for 50 on third down. On Monday general manager Howie Roseman, who generally delivers replacements quicker than Amazon, signed Shaquille Leonard, the ex-Colts linebacking star whom the Cowboys also wanted.
– The 49ers are undefeated with receiver Deebo Samuel (four catches, 116 yards, two TDs on Sunday) and tackle Trent Williams in the lineup. Brock Purdy again had a near-perfect QB rating (148.8) with four TDs and no interceptions, and the 49ers’ defense snuffed the Eagles’ runners, giving DeAndre Swift 13 yards on six tries.
Green Bay 27, Kansas City 19
– The pattern continues, or deepens. Patrick Mahomes’ longest completion to a wide receiver in this game was 17 yards. Down 24-19 with 6:03 left, the Chiefs crossed midfield on a pass interference penalty, but Mahomes’ next pass was intercepted by Keisean Nixon, and the Packers took up four minutes before kicking a field goal. Kansas City’s final drive reached the Packers’ 33, and Marcus Valdez-Scantling was clearly the victim of pass interference by Carrington Ballentine, who sounds like a sitcom mogul, but no flag flew. Mahomes couldn’t find another completion and the Chiefs sagged to 8-4.
– Kansas City cranked out 148 rushing yards, with Isiah Pacheco picking up 110 in 18 carries before he was ejected. But the Chiefs couldn’t get a handle on Jordan Love, the Packers’ improving quarterback, who threw three touchdowns and hit 25 of 36 passes for 267 yards without a pick.
– Green Bay has won three consecutive games to reach 6-6, and Love has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in those games. None of the Packers’ five remaining games are against teams who would be in the playoffs today.
Houston 22, Denver 17
– The Texans’ astute drafting did not stop with C.J. Stroud. Linebacker Will Anderson, taken third after Houston took Stroud second in the 2023 draft, sacked Russell Wilson twice and hit him two other times. Derek Stingley, the third overall pick two years ago, has two interceptions and has had four in the past three games.
– Stroud was 16 of 27 for 274 yards, and Nico Collins broke out with nine catches for 191 yards and a touchdown. But the win was smudged when Tank Dell, another member of the ‘23 draft class, broke his fibula as Dameon Pierce was scoring from the one yard line. Dell’s season ends with 47 catches, 709 yards and seven touchdowns.
– This was an unlikely marquee game that lived up to its promise. Denver, coming in with five consecutive wins, fell behind 16-3 but kept plugging. Wilson ran to convert a fourth-and-2 and put the Broncos on Houston’s eight yard line with a chance. After two inompletions, Wilson tried to find Lucas Krull in the end zone and found Houston’s Jimmy Ward instead, the third pick of the game by the Texans. found itself on the Houston eight yard line with a chance to win after Wilson scrambled to convert a fourth-and-two. It was the 37th interception of Wilson since the beginning of the 2020 season.
Dallas 41, Seattle 35
– Punters Bryan Anger and Michael Dickson made themselves useful by holding for the placekickers. They weren’t needed otherwise. Neither offense turned over the ball, and the teams combined to go 17-for-28 on third down. The Seahawks (6-6) had touchdown drives of 75, 75, 75, 75 and 70 yards, and still lost.
– So any outbreak of defense would turn out to be crucial. The Seahawks led 35-27 early in the fourth quarter, and had a 35-30 lead with 11:23 left. They churned their way to a fourth-and-one on the Dallas 46, and Pete Carroll chose to go for it. Dexter Lawrence stopped Zac Charbonnet, and the Cowboys (9-3) drove ten plays, with Dak Prescott pitching a 12-yard touchdown to Jake Ferguson. Smith threw incomplete on another fourth down, and Micah Parsons’ fierce pass rush stopped another fourth down play with 1:11 left.
– Dallas rolled up 33 first downs, and both teams exceeded 400 yards. Referee Clete Blakeman might have been the leading ground-gainer. Dallas had nine penalties, Seattle had ten, and the combined penalty yardage was 257 yards,
Detroit 33, New Orleans 28
– Not since Alex Karras, Joe Schmidt and Roger Brown were living inside the heads of NFL quarterbacks have the Lions won nine of their first 12 games. That was in 1962 and that’s where the Lions are now, after tying a franchise record with 21 points in the first quarter and then hanging on for a road win.
– A 21-point lead is far from safe with the Lions’ defense, and the Saints cut the lead to 26-21 after three quarters. But Derek Carr fumbled to Josh Paschal on the Saints’ 26, and Jameson Williams streaked 19 yards for a breakthrough score. Later, Carr was knocked out of the game and Jameis Winston couldn’t sustain the necessary drives, and the Lions ran out the last three minutes with Derek Carr hitting third-down passes to rookie Sam LaPorta and Josh Reynolds.
– LaPorta continued to shine with nine catches for 149 yards and a touchdown, and Goff was an efficient 16 for 25 with two scores. It was the Lions’ second win, and fifth game, in which they gave up 28 or more points.
Miami 45, Washington 15
– Calvin Johnson of the Lions holds the regular season record for receiving yards with 1,964 in 2012. Tyreek Hill has 1,481 with five games to go. On Sunday he took Tua Tagovailoa’s passes 60 and 78 yards for touchdowns, his 11th and 12th, as the Dolphins got to 9-3 for the first time since 2001. Hill has nine catches of 40 or more yards, three more than anyone else in the league.
– For the third consecutive game, someone intercepted Sam Howell and ran it back for a score. This time it was the Dolphins’ Andy Van Ginkel. It was Howell’s 14th interception for Washington (4-9) and he was also sacked for the 56th, 57th and 58th time. Both numbers lead the NFL.
– De’Von Achane returned from his latest injury to run for two Miami touchdowns. The rookie from Texas A&M has 56 rushing attempts this year and seven scores. The Dolphins, who now have the top record in the AFC, have scored 36 or more points in five different games.
Indianapolis 31, Tennessee 28 (OT)
– A sack by Kwity Paye, one of six by the Colts, stopped Tennessee’s final drive in regulation. Nick Folk’s 46-yard field goal started overtime, but the Colts finished it with Gardner Minshew’s 55-yard pass to Alec Pierce that set up a TD pass to Michael Pittman, the 16th time Pittman was Minshew’s target. The Colts improved to 7-5 and held their playoff position.
– They had to do it without Jonathan Taylor’s running talent, and Minshew had to chuck it 32 times. He wound up with 312 yards, and Pittman and Pierce both broke 100. Gus Bradley’s defense now has 21 sacks in its last four games.
– Derrick Henry got two touchdowns for Tennessee (4-8) before he left with a concussion, and defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons also went down. Punter Ryan Stonehouse was knocked out of the game, which prompted the Titans to fire special teams coach Craig Aukerman. Folk, 39, took over the punting, and averaged 40.5 on two punts. He said later he’d done it at Arizona when he was playing in the “Pac-10.”
L.A. Rams 36, Cleveland 19
– Joe Flacco, the fourth Browns’ QB to start a game this year, wasn’t necessarily the problem but not the answer either. He was 23 for 44 with two touchdowns but also a late interception to the Rams’ John Johnson, with the Browns trailing 20-19 in the fourth quarter. The Rams drove 24 yards to Matthew Stafford’s TD pass to Cooper Kupp, and then Flacco threw a fourth-down incompletion on his 30, setting up Kyren Williams’ TD for L.A.
– Afterward, Rams coach Sean McVay told Cleveland pass rusher Myles Garrett, “I just want you to know how much you ruined my (deleted) week preparing for you,” but the hours were well spent. The All-Pro did not sack or even hit Stafford all day and was not credited with a tackle. Williams’ 21 rushes for 88 yards had something to do with that along with Stafford’s quick passing. Puca Nacua had another big day, with a 70-yard touchdown on Stafford’s pass.
– The Rams surged to 6-6 with their third consecutive win, although their next game is at Baltimore. The Browns sank to 7-5, and the Rams held their runners to 87 yards on 23 carries.
Arizona 24, Pittsburgh 10
– Nobody likes to give up a 99-yard drive, obviously. Touchdown drives of 21 and 33 drives are even less welcome. The Steelers (7–5) were victimized by all that Sunday in a performance that reminded coach Mike Tomlin of “JV football.” Mitch Trubisky’s fumble and a face mask penalty by Miles Killebrew on a Steeler punt gave Arizona (3-10) the short fields.
– The long drive required 15 plays and followed a stop on Najee Harris on Arizona’s one yard line. It consumed 4:36, and Kyler Murray cashed five first downs on the way to a 5-yard touchdown pass to up-and-coming tight end Trey McBride.
– The game was suspended twice because of lightning, and the status of quarterback Kenny Pickett was also suspended. He left with an ankle injury, which brought on Trubisky, and had surgery Monday, although he isn’t officially out for the year. The Steelers had nine penalties and let Arizona convert 10 of 17 third downs. Ex-Steeler James Conner scored twice for Arizona, which is 2-1 since Murray returned.
Atlanta 13, N.Y. Jets 8
– Two teams that would have trouble scoring against air were confronted by windy rain in New York Sunday, and Desmond Ridder’s 20-yard pass to MyCole Pruitt was the only touchdown. Ridder was only 12 for 27 for 121 yards but did finish the game, unlike the Jets’ Tim Boyle, who gave away to Trevor Siemian.
– There were 21 points and 16 punts, and the two combined to convert 6 of 29 third downs. The Jets got to Atlanta’s 48 with a first down, but Richie Grant blitzed to sack Siemian, who fumbled to Andre Smith with 2:47 remaining. The Falcons haven’t given up an offensive touchdown in two weeks, and former Bengal safety Jessie Bates had his fifth interception. Linebackers Kaden Elliss and Nate Landman have emerged, too.
– Atlanta (6-6) is leading the NFC South by a game over Tampa Bay and New Orleans and has the tiebreaker on both. The Jets are 4-8, and Siemian, if he gets the call, would be their fourth starting QB of the season.
L.A. Chargers 6, New England 0
– It has come to this: New England has held its past three opponents under 10 points and is 0-3 in those games. That hasn’t happened to anyone since the Chicago Cardinals of 1938. In the midst of a chilly rainstorm, neither team had a snap inside the red zone, and Bailey Zappe, the latest Patriots’ quarterback, was sacked five times. Two of those, by Derwin James and Eric Kendricks, pushed New England back from the Chargers’ 30-yard-line. That was the Patriots’ most favorable yard line of the day.
– Thanks to J.K. Scott’s punting, New England (2-10) assumed possession seven times inside its own 10 yard line. But the Patriots outgained the Chargers, who rushed for 29 yards in 24 carries, and got two 38-yard field goals from Cameron Dicker, One of them followed a fumble by Rhmondre Stevenson, who was injured on the play by rookie Tuli Tuipolotu and did not return.
– Khalil Mack had his third consecutive two-sack game and has 99 in his career. The Chargers hit Zappe six times and had eight tackles-for-loss. They improved to 5-7. Meanwhile, the Patriots would have the second pick in the NFL draft ITSET (If The Season Ended Today).
Tampa Bay 21, Carolina 18
– Two constants in Tampa Bay’s drab 5-7 season: Baker Mayfield has started each game at quarterback, and Mike Evans has been hard to deal with. For the sixth consecutive game Evans caught a TD pass Sunday, a 75-yarder that put the Buccaneers ahead for good. Evans caught seven passes for 162 yards and passed the 1,000 yard mark for the 10th consecutive year. Only Jerry Rice has done that.
– Without stalwarts Devin White and Lavonte David, the Bucs permitted a 104-yard rushing day by Chuba Hubbard, the first Panther to rush for 100 this year. Carolina had the ball for nearly 34 minutes. But with 2:14 left, Bryce Young threw an interception to Antoine Winfield on fourth-and-1 at his own 40. The Bucs ran out the clock with Mayfield finding Evans for the clinching first down.
– This was Carolina’s first game for interim coach Chris Tabor, who replaced Frank Reich. The Panthers are 1-11, and Young has had one touchdown pass and no 200-yard games in his last four outings.