Big second half leads Bengals past Colts

CINCINNATI — Jake Browning has the Cincinnati Bengals rolling.

The Bengals backup quarterback proved last week’s primetime win at Jacksonville was no fluke, leading Cincinnati to a 34-14 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Paycor Stadium in a game that could have big AFC playoff implications. Browning is now 2-1 as the starter since replacing injured Joe Burrow. The Colts (7-6) had a four-game winning streak come to a close.

“Every team in the league faces adversity over the course of a season, and the best teams can handle it and respond, and these are guys that continue to respond,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “… We’ve just got to continue to stack it. We’ve got a history of doing that. Obviously, this is a new team, this is the 2023 team, but we’ve got to go prove ourselves again these next few weeks.”

Browning briefly came out of the game early in the fourth quarter with what he said was cramps in his hand from dehydration, but Cincinnati (7-6) already had a 28-14 lead at that point, and A.J. McCarron was able to put together another scoring drive before Browning returned. The third-string quarterback’s first pass went for a loss on third down; however, the Colts muffed the ensuing punt, and rookie D.J. Ivey recovered at the Indy 12-yard line.

McCarron, who in 2015 replaced Andy Dalton after he fractured his thumb, threw a touchdown pass to Tee Higgins negated by offensive pass interference, and the Bengals ended up settling for a 32-yard field goal from Evan McPherson. Browning returned the next drive and finished the game with the help of a defense that pitched a second-half shutout.

After that field goal drive, BJ Hill tipped a Gardner Minshew pass to himself for an interception after a Trey Hendrickson pressure. The Bengals ended up with a three-and-out the following drive but Cincinnati forced a turnover on downs to get the ball back in Browning’s re-energized hands with about five minutes left, and McPherson’s 35-yard field goal just after the two-minute warning sealed the win.

“My hand was locking up on me and I couldn’t throw,” Browning said of his cramping. “I went in and got an IV. It was dumb. I’ve got to drink more water or electrolyes, but when it’s cold you’re not as thirsty. It was embarrassing.”

Browning had led Cincinnati on two touchdown drives to open the second half after the Colts scored 14 points in the final two minutes before halftime to tie the game. This time the defense held up.

For a second straight game, the Bengals topped 100 yards rushing, and the running backs were a big part of the team’s success. Rookie running back Chase Brown got things started as his first career touchdown gave the Bengals a lead they would never turn over. After a fake handoff, Browning hit Brown on a screen pass with open space in front of him, and Brown dashed down the field for a 54-yard touchdown and 7-0 advantage with 6:31 left in the first quarter.

Brown, who finally broke into a role in the offense last week, topped out at 22.05 miles per hour on his sprint to the end zone -- the second-fastest play in the NFL this season, behind only DK Metcalf’s 22.23 mile-per-hour scamper against the Cowboys on Nov. 30. He also made a nice move at the end of the play, cutting inside at the last second to avoid a tackle at the 5-yard line.

The Colts then missed a chance to cut the deficit when Matt Gay’s 38-yard field goal hit the left upright with 1:15 left in the first quarter. Then, they were hit with a leverage penalty that negated McPherson’s 33-yarder to extend Cincinnati’s next drive, which eventually was capped by Joe Mixon’s 1-yard touchdown run.

That made it 14-0 with about 10 minutes left in the second quarter, but mistakes by the home team allowed the Colts to tie the game going into halftime. Hendrickson was called for roughing the passer on a third-and-14 play that went for nine yards, and the Colts took advantage of the gifted first down, driving down for a 2-yard touchdown pass from Minshew to Mo Alie-Cox with 1:56 left on the clock. Then, Ronnie Harrison Jr. intercepted Browning’s pass that went off Tanner Hudson’s hands and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown.

Mixon rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries and added three catches for 46 yards. Brown carried the ball eight times for 25 yards and had three catches for 80 yards.

Browning completed 18 of 24 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and added a rushing touchdown in the third quarter. Minshew completed 26 of 39 passes for 240 yards and one touchdown, and the Colts managed just 46 yards rushing on 18 carries.

“It’s all about will and want to,” Mixon said. “Will and want to and everybody doing the right things -- linemen making the big blocks, running backs doing whatever we can to make the right cuts and get positive yardage, and we’ve just been keeping our foot on the gas.”


VIkings at Bengals, 1 p.m., NFL Network, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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