The Cincinnati Bengals fought hard Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers but ultimately, didn't pull through, losing their third straight game and a vital division and AFC matchup revolving around the conference's playoff picture.
The Bengals, now sitting at 5-6, will head to Jacksonville for a Monday night showdown, and former Washington Huskie, Jake Browning, will look to build off of his first career start. Here is Browning's overall grade vs. Pittsburgh.
All player and team personnel courtesy of Pro Football Reference*
What grade does Jake Browning deserve for his first-ever NFL start?
I'm giving Jake Browning a C+ for his performance in this game. Browning did what most backups do, and then some. He didn't blow anybody away with his arm talent or overall skill set, but he did look like someone who understood the system, the playbook, and the flow of the game.
It didn't help that the Bengals run game was nonexistent, which made it a lot harder for Browning to execute through the air when Pittsburgh could drop back in coverage more often than not.
Outside of a few tipped balls and a bad borderline red zone interception in the second half on a forced ball to Ja'Marr Chase that was underthrown on a play where the ball cannot be underthrown, Browning managed the game at an average level. His stats and performance showed that. Ultimately, only scoring 10 points is not enough to win games in this league.
Browning finished the game 19-of-26 for 227 passing yards, one passing touchdown, one interception, and three rushes for nine yards. His Pro Football Focus grade for the game was 51.0, which in a divisional matchup, in the rain, with zero rushing attack wasn't all too shabby, and I'd expect him to continue to improve each week with consistent reps and game action.
Browning's leading receiver was Ja'Marr Chase, who hauled in four receptions for 81 yards. The backup quarterback did deliver the ball well throughout the offense, connecting with nine different receivers, but none stuck as a consistent target.
As I mentioned, Cincinnati's failure to execute in the run game was the glaring issue, and it never really gave the first career starter a chance to be his true self on the football field. Cincinnati only ran the ball a total of 11 times.
This hurt Jake Browning's QBR for the day in the long run. Browning was forced to make questionable passes, have multiple 3rd and longs, and struggle to be productive on 1st and 2nd down, which will come back to bite you. His QBR, which was 22.6, was one of the worst of the weekend in front of only Mac Jones, Tommy DeVito, and Tim Boyle.
Now, Browning will get his first career road start against another good defense in Jacksonville, with any playoff hopes dwindling each week that goes by. If Cincinnati has any hopes or desires to compete for a Wild Card spot, this game is a must-win.