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Bengals' Jake Browning sees himself as better backup to QB Joe Burrow after extended action in 2023

When Joe Burrow has started more than 10 games in a season, the Cincinnati Bengals have made the playoffs. When he hasn't, the Bengals have missed the postseason.

He's clearly the most crucial piece to the Bengals, who finished 9-8 last season but remain among the Super Bowl favorites heading into the 2024 season. But Cincinnati might be in far better shape if Burrow does miss any time this coming season.

Backup QB Jake Browning idled for two-plus years on the Bengals' practice squad and bench before seeing a single regular-season snap, but when he did, Browning was thrust into the spotlight. The former undrafted free agent ended up starting the final seven games of the most recent season in Burrow's place, and he more than held his own.

Browning guided the Bengals to four victories and actually led the NFL in completion percentage at 70.4. He also threw for 12 touchdowns, ran for three more scores and averaged more passing yards per start (266.9) than Burrow did (230.9) last season.

Having started more than 50 college games, Browning wasn't used to sitting and watching others play quarterback ahead of him. But Browning told Sirius XM Radio that he got plenty out of his passive experience in 2021 and 2022, studying Burrow while he took the majority of the snaps those seasons.

"I think, obviously, I learned a lot from him playing," Browning said.

But now it's at the point, Browning believes, where he and Burrow can help each other going forward thanks to his unexpected experience last season.

Browning said that he and Burrow "have got a really good relationship," but now that relationship can be further extended with Browning able to see things now that he hadn't prior to his first major NFL action last season. Perhaps Burrow can learn from Browning, too.

"Obviously, (Burrow is) an unbelievable player, right? He's one of the best in the NFL, and no one's going to debate that," Browning said. "But for me, I've got some strengths, too. I'm sure there are different things where he's like, 'Oh, OK, that's how you did this.'

"And there's those conversations that -- I was always helpful before, but there's a whole other level of, 'Hey, I've been in this offense, and I've had to be the trigger guy.' And so when he has some concern or something, I can relate and we can have that conversation."

Burrow is not all the way back from wrist surgery to repair the season-ending injury he suffered last season. He was quite candid recently about his own “football mortality” and wanting to be smarter about how he approaches his rehab -- and how quickly he returns to the field.

That's not to say that the Bengals' hopes aren't still pinned on Burrow getting back and reprising his role as star QB. Nothing has changed on that front. But Browning believes last season's bad luck -- and his own major career shift, as a result -- might end up helping the Bengals with their ultimate goal this season: winning the Super Bowl, no matter who is at QB.

"I think that's been really good for me and him," Browning said. "It's just trying to get as much improvement in the offseason, get everybody where we want to be and all be on the same page and go make a run at it."

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