Bengals begin life without Joe Burrow with loss to Steelers

Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon, right, is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Trenton Thompson (17) during the first half of an NFL football game in Cincinnati, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

CINCINNATI (AP) — The Cincinnati Bengals are facing life without Joe Burrow. The first week didn’t go so well.

With a healthy Burrow, the Bengals won four straight games and were firmly back in the AFC playoff picture. Their star quarterback is now out for the season with a torn ligament in his throwing hand.

On Sunday, quarterback Jake Browning made his first NFL start and completed 19 of 26 passes for 227 yards and an 11-yard touchdown to tight end Drew Sample in a 16-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Browning was sacked four times and picked off once.

“He did well. He can do better, though,” Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase said. “We had a lot of pressures today. That was the biggest factor. We just needed to make some opportunities when we got into the red zone and we didn’t.”

The Bengals won two straight AFC North titles and an AFC championship with Burrow. They started this season 1-3 while Burrow played through a calf injury that caused him to miss the preseason.

With the calf healed, Burrow and the offense were flying. That’s all changed now.

On Sunday, the Bengals dropped to 5-6 — 0-4 in the division — and their playoff hopes are dwindling by the week.

Starting quarterbacks have gone down across the NFL this season, with Burrow joining Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Anthony Richardson, Daniel Jones and Deshaun Watson among the injured.

“No one’s sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “We’ve got to pull ourselves up and we’ve got to just find a way to get wins coming down here in the stretch, and that starts Monday night (at Jacksonville).”

Browning has plenty of offensive talent around him. But the Bengals’ running game has struggled to get going all season. Cincinnati rushed for 25 yards Sunday, averaging only 2.3 yards per attempt.

“I just know that we’ve got to be situationally sound,” Taylor said. “We’ve got to win the turnover battle and can’t have the penalties that we had today in order to win games.”

Browning was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Minnesota Vikings in 2019 and had spent the past two seasons on the Bengals practice squad. He went 8 of 14 for 68 yards and a TD last week after Burrow exited in the second quarter of a 34-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

“I think starting with the first drive (I was) kind of getting settled,” Browning said of his performance against Pittsburgh. “Not up to my standards. I think just the overall experience I will build from. Being able to see myself on tape and critique it pretty hard will be good for me, too.”

The road for Browning and the Bengals won’t get any easier. Following Monday’s game against the Jaguars, the Bengals still have to play at Pittsburgh and Kansas City and host the Browns.

“I think we have a really good football team,” Taylor said. “You’re gonna hit stretches and you’ve got to find a way to overcome them and regroup. I told these guys Monday Night Football is the perfect opportunity to be able to put your best foot forward and change the narrative.”


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