JACKSONVILLE, Fla. _ A funny thing happened on the way to the AFC playoffs.
Bengals backup quarterback Jake Browning, backed by a Pro Bowl effort from wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, fired up the game of his life and led the Bengals to a stunning 34-31 overtime victory over the heavily-favored Jaguars.
Evan McPherson broke the fifth and final tie with a 48-yard field goal with 1:50 left for his first walkoff since the 2021 AFC Championship Game.
In the overtime, Browning coolly converted a third-and-ten against the blitz to wide receiver Tee Higgins and then got them into field-goal range with a flip to Chase to set up third-and-one from the Jags 32. Running back Joe Mixon banged for the first down and Browning could sit on his gargantuan 354-yard night on 32 of 37 dart throwing to set up McPherson.
The classic featured the most ties in an NFL game this season.
Also in the overtime, left end Sam Hubbard's pass rush forced a holding call that wiped out a 42-yard pass from Jags backup quarterback C.J. Beathard to wide receiver Calvin Ridley to the Bengals 2. That translated into a punt and the ensuing heroics.
Beathard also had a say in the final 2:28 of regulation in a December battle of backups.
After the Jags recovered a fumble on his first play, Beathard dinked and dunked it down the middle of the field under the Bengals zone with the big one a 19-yarder to Jags running back Travis Etienne Jr., to set up Brandon McManus' tying 40-yarder with 28 seconds left.
Browning racked up his first 300-yard game with his best Joe Burrow imitation, finishing regulation 28 of 32 for 318 yards. He matched the 87.5% Burrow had in San Francisco Oct. 29 before finishing at 86%, tied for fifth best in Bengals annals. Chase went nine for 124 yards in regulation on his way to 11 for 149 and Mixon rushed 63 yards for 14 carries before finishing with 68 on 19. Browning's 354 is six yards more than Burrow's 2023 high.
Browning scrambled for 21 yards late in regulation and he fought through two false starts and a Josh Allen sack to get eight yards back on a throw to wide receiver Tyler Boyd. That set up McPherson's 54-yard field goal with 2:28 left for the Bengals' 31-28 lead and jacked McPherson to 7-for 12 from 50 this season after he barely missed from 57 early in the game.
It was McManus' missed 48-yard field goal that made it possible right after Bengals right end Trey Hendrickson sacked Jags quarterback Trevor Lawrence with 5:25 left. Hendrickson was working against left tackle Walker Little and Little stepped on Lawrence's foot and Lawrence limped off the field with an ankle injury, giving way to Beathard.
Chase dropped a third-and-three over the middle at the Jags 5 and as he did all night long, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor went for it. Browning went back to Chase over the middle and Chase made a stupendous fourth-and-three catch (his ninth of the night) for a first down at the 4 to set up Browning's sneak for the touchdown that tied it at 28 with 9:27 left in the game.
On third-and-two on the first series of the second half, Browning did what he said he was going to do and went to Chase when he was one-on-one. Chase flayed cornerback Tyson Campbell down the left sideline and Browning got it to him in front for a 76-yard touchdown that gave the Bengals a 21-14 lead.
It put Chase over 1,000 yards for the third time in his three seasons and put him over 100 yards for the game (104) on his seventh catch for his fifth 100-yarder of the season. It also put Browning at an astounding 19 of 21 for 261 yards and 134.3 passer rating.
But then the Bengals suffered devastating back-to-back plays in a 17-second gut punch of a span.
With the Bengals leading, 21-14, Lawrence stared at a third-and-nine from the Bengals 14 when he lofted a ball in the back of the end zone. Bengals safety Dax Hill cut in front of wide receiver Parker Washington and had the interception. But the ball went off Hill's hands and bounced back into Washington's hands for the tying touchdown and the first of Washington's career on a night he had his first six NFL catches.
Then on the first snap after the kickoff at their 25, the Bengals tried their second double pass of the night. Browning flicked it to Boyd on the left side. Boyd then tried to throw it across the field to Mixon and Josh Allen picked it off in the middle to set up a nine-yard touchdown drive that put the Jags ahead, 28-21, with 3:13 left in the third quarter.
Chase Brown in that second half clicked off their longest run of the season on a 31-yarder.
Browning was hugely brilliant under the lights, lighting it up for 17 of 19 for 178 yards in the first half for a glittering passer rating of 105.7 to set up two rushing touchdowns for the rampaging Mixon that sent the game into halftime tied at 14.
A week after he had just 16 yards on eight attempts, Mixon ran it seven times in the first half for 27 yards while adding 37 more on two catches.
And it was Mixon Browning found on a pass when he escaped on third-and-a-long-yard to hit Mixon for the first.
Then on third-and-five, as he directed tight end Drew Sample in front of him and running back Trayveon Williams next to him in pass protection, Browning timed up a 10-yard out route at the Jags 19 to Boyd as the two-minute warning sounded. Then Browning went under center, rolled out, and hit Sample for nine before Mixon walked in from two with 64 seconds left in the half to tie it. That gave Mixon 46 rushing touchdowns in his career, moving him past Corey Dillon into second place on the Bengals' all-time list.
Browning sizzled to get the Bengals tied at 7on a drive he sifted four of four for 80 yards and Mixon capped it with a textbook second-effort on a six-yard touchdown run when he kept the legs moving after being stopped by cornerback Darious Williams and safety Andrew Wingard. Mixon went left when Chase went in motion right behind Browning.
The huge play came on third-and-four from the Bengals 14 when Chase made a remarkable leaping catch on the sidelines, pulling in a one-hander when he pinned the ball against the shield on his face mask for a 17-yard gain.
That got Browning rolling. He got under center, rolled out on play-action for a 24-yard seed to wide receiver Trenton Irwin and then drilled a 20-yard seam job to tight end Tanner Hudson before he hit Higgins for a 14-yard slant.
But a mistake on the next drive helped put the Jags back in the lead after a holding penalty had Lawrence looking at third-and-six. Hendrickson was called for being in the neutral zone and the Jags scored five plays later.
The last two came on the explosive plays that has hampered the Bengals defense for the last month. Lawrence found the wide-open Ridley for 21 yards and on the next snap he hit tight end Evan Engram on a 22-yard bubble screen for a touchdown down the left sideline where the Jags wide receivers did a great job sealing off cornerback DJ Turner and Dax Hill as they took a 14-7 lead with 6:24 left in the half.
But rookie safety Jordan Battle knocked down one potential long ball as Lawrence finished the half 10 of
13 for 117 yards.
Mixon, against the blitz, picked up 28 yards on a screen and the double-barreled backfield delivered when rookie Chase Brown high-stepped to a 15-yarder behind left tackle Orlando Brown. They got to the Jags 35, but when Chase tried a throwback pass to Browning on a misdirection sweep, both slipped as Browning took a seven-yard loss. The Bengals tried to get Chase loose by throwing to him at the line of scrimmage early, but his first five catches went for 11 yards and McPherson's 57-yard field-goal attempt hit the crossbar.
On top of a Jags' face-mask penalty, the Bengals got near midfield on their first drive. But they couldn't overcome a four-yard loss on first down on a swing pass to Chase and a third-and-seven pass to Chase over the middle that was suffocated for four yards by Darious Williams. When they went for it on fourth and three from the Jags 44, Browning couldn't find anybody open as seven defenders dropped to blanket Chase with multiple defenders and he took a sack as the Jags took over at their 49.
Lawrence didn't wait around against a Bengals defense that had allowed 17 passes of at least 20 yards in the last three games. On his first snap Monday, Lawrence hit wide-open wide receiver Christian Kirk between Battle and linebacker Germaine Pratt for 26 yards.
Kirk left for the game with a groin injury and Pratt later made a good play in the drive when Lawrence scrambled on third-and-three and Pratt pulled his arm back from the first-down marker to set up a fourth down. But Lawrence converted to set up the touchdown.