Bengals-Colts matchup features battle of backup QBs

CINCINNATI — The last time Jake Browning played against Gardner Minshew they were competing for the 2018 Apple Cup in the University of Washington’s annual rivalry game against Washington State.

Browning led No. 16 Washington to a 28-15 victory over No. 8 Washington State in a snowy game he remembers very clearly.

While there’s no prize to be won Sunday when Browning and the Bengals (6-6) face Minshew and the Indianapolis Colts (7-5) in a Week 14 matchup at Paycor Stadium, a playoff berth ultimately could be on the line. Cincinnati needs to start stacking wins and doing so against a team just ahead in the AFC playoff race would help.

Browning and Minshew both started the season as backups but are being counted on as their teams’ starting quarterbacks, just like that Apple Cup matchup in college.

“We were really good on defense all my years there (at Washington), and I remember it being a very dominant performance on defense and running the ball, and I remember it was snowing so bad that we didn’t put a punt returner back there,” Browning recalled about that Apple Cup matchup. “He couldn’t see the ball or the punter, and so we just rushed everybody and I remember thinking it must be pretty bad.”

Browning won’t be battling snow this time, but he can hope the Bengals can replicate those two things he felt went well against Minshew in 2018. Cincinnati’s running game finally exploded last week for 156 yards on 31 carries and the defense did just enough Monday to help close out a 34-31 overtime win at Jacksonville.

The Bengals want to keep that ground game going and now are facing a top 8 scoring offense operated by Minshew. Minshew, a former backup in Jacksonville and Philadelphia, is 5-3 as the starter for the Colts this season, including four straight wins, and has thrown for 2,284 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“Just kind of playmaking ability, you know, I think he raises the level of play of those around him,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said of Minshew. “There’s a guy that’s out there playing quarterback that team’s believe in he’s had this impact on several teams now. And, so you can just you can feel that on the tape that he can extend plays, he can play in rhythm, the guys around him believe in him. You can see all of that.”

Minshew replaced rookie Anthony Richardson, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2023 draft, in a Week 5 game against Tennessee when Richardson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Minshew has been the starter ever since, and the Colts have scored 20 points or more in seven of his eight starts, which also includes a Week 3 win over Baltimore when Richardson was out with a concussion.

Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said he sees a lot of similarities in Minshew and Browning, who is set to make his third start since replacing injured Joe Burrow in the Nov. 16 game at Baltimore.

“They’re both super confident guys,” Anarumo said. “They’re both elusive enough to run for … 20-plus and good enough to throw for (300) and change on you. That’s just who they are, and Gardner’s been doing it for some time and he’s not shy. He threw the ball near every play in college so he knows how to throw it.”

Minshew was selected by the Jaguars in the sixth round of the 2019 draft and ended up a 14-game starter as a rookie when Nick Foles broke his collarbone in the opener. Browning went undrafted and spent his first four years on practice squads with the Vikings and Bengals before earning the backup job this season.

While Minshew has more experience at the NFL level and is playing well this season, Browning seeks to show he can replicate Monday’s win at Jacksonville. He completed 86.5 percent of his passes, threw for 354 yards and a touchdown and ran for one as well, earning the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award.

“I’ve watched a lot of football, and I feel like at least for quarterbacks, it’s either you’re the greatest ever or you suck,” Browning said. “It is just like this (up and down) all the time, and there’s a lot of peace and sanity right here (in the middle), which is kind of where I like to stay. We’ve won a lot of games here and we’ve had good seasons, and I think the expectation is still to continue to win games, and I think it’s just getting back to your routine as quickly as possible, especially on a short week.

“I don’t think there’s really been much time to let it sink in ‘that was a good win’ or ‘what a great overtime win,’ but I know for me personally, it’s going and looking at the film of every game the same, whether you won or loss and picking out a couple of things you can get better at. I still think I’m early in my starts. I don’t have that many going into, this will be my third one, so I should continue to get better and if I don’t, then I’m not really doing what I need to do.”


Colts at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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