Browning wants to keep improving, though, and with that, Cincinnati should still have a shot at the playoffs. The Colts are one of three teams left on the schedule sitting just ahead in the jumbled AFC standings. Here are five things to know about the game Sunday:
1. Confidence high
Browning was the AFC Offensive Player of the Week after completing 86.5 percent of his passes for 354 yards and a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown, and his ability to lead the Bengals to a big win on the road, in primetime was a big confidence booster for the team.
“I felt like just everybody was like, ‘Bro, we could do this. We are still the Bengals,’” running back Joe Mixon said. “Ain’t nobody feeling sorry for themselves. And I think that was a huge thing that I’ve seen I felt this past week was nobody hanging their heads. Everybody was like, ‘Let’s go, like we still in it.’”
Cincinnati has five games left and sits in the 11th spot in the AFC, four below the cutoff for a playoff spot, but the No. 5 Browns (7-5), No. 6 Colts and No. 8 Steelers (7-6) are all on the schedule, as are the No. 3 Chiefs (8-4). The Bengals need to start collecting wins, especially when it could come down to head-to-head tiebreakers.
2. Battle of backup QBs
Cincinnati is one of several NFL teams relying on backup quarterbacks right now, and Indianapolis is one of them. Rookie No. 4 overall draft pick Anthony Richardson was sidelined in Week 5 with a season-ending shoulder injury, and Gardner Minshew has taken over with a 5-3 record, including four straight wins.
Minshew has started against the Bengals twice in his career, both times when he was in Jacksonville after earning the job when Nick Foles went down in the 2019 opener. Minshew led the Jaguars to a 27-17 win in Cincinnati in October that year, but he lost the second one, also in Cincinnati, in Game 4 of the 2020 season, despite throwing for 351 yards.
The Colts’ backup-turned-starter has thrown for 2,284 yards and 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Michael Pittman Jr. (889 yards receiving) and Josh Downs (580 yards receiving) have been his top targets, and Lakota West High School graduate Ryan Kelly is an anchor on the offensive line protecting him, but the Colts will be without right tackle Braden Smith (knee).
Cincinnati could be without one of its top weapons with Tyler Boyd limited this week by an ankle injury, but the Colts secondary also is banged up with cornerbacks JuJu Brents (quad) and Ameer Speed (hip) questionable. Linebacker E.J. Speed also is questionable with a knee injury.
3. Chase getting ‘ornery’
Ja’Marr Chase told reporters in Jacksonville after the game Monday he was feeling a little “evil,” and that was what led to his 149-yard day with 11 catches on 12 targets and one 76-yard touchdown. Asked Thursday if “ornery” was a good way to describe his mood, Chase wasn’t sure, but he’s ready to finish the season on a big run.
The third-year wide receiver topped 1,000 yards for the third straight season and is eying T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s franchise single-season reception record, which was set at 112 catches in 2007. He won’t get it Sunday but he can put himself in a better position to do so over the last four games. Chase is targeting 117 catches, and he’s well on his way sitting at 86 now. On his current pace of 7.2 receptions per game, he would finish with 122.
“I got it,” Chase said. “Don’t even worry about it. … We’re good. … I just don’t want to be close to what (Houshmandzadeh) had. I want to make it harder for somebody else.”
4. Stopping the run
The Bengals have struggled against the run this season, and there’s even more cause for concern with D.J. Reader questionable with a back issue that popped up Friday, keeping him out of practice. He’s been the strongest run stopper on the defensive line, and the Colts bring a ground attack that has accounted for 100 yards or more in seven games.
Cincinnati allows 133.9 rushing yards per game, which is the fifth worst in the league.
Indianapolis will be making its own adjustments with Jonathan Taylor out because of a thumb injury. He and Zack Moss have shard the load, each recording 100 carries or more this season, so now the bulk of it will fall on Moss. He leads the team with 723 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 160 carries, while Taylor adds 414 yards and four touchdowns on 100 carries.
5. Hello, Chase Brown
The Bengals found a rhythm with their running game last week, and rookie Chase Brown played a big part in that, despite only getting a season-high 11 snaps. He made the most of them, rushing nine times for 61 yards (6.78 yards per carry) a week after returning from injured reserve and not playing any offensive snaps.
There were big questions in his Week 12 return to action as to why he didn’t get any carries when Cincinnati’s running game was getting no where with only Mixon running the ball. That was a game where the Bengals managed just 25 yards on 11 carries in a 16-10 loss to Pittsburgh. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan had said there were plans to use him and the Bengals just didn’t get to those plays, but they definitely needed to see what he could provide. Now he may have earned more opportunities.
“We’ve had confidence in him,” coach Taylor said. “His opportunities were coming. Being a rookie, coming into the earlier part of the season, getting a role on special teams that way, he was starting to earn more opportunities and he got hurt. So, there’s been a confidence there from us and the team to get him involved, and he maximized his opportunities. … I think there is something to being able to give another back some carries and creating a different look for the defense.”
Colts at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7