Jake Browning has the most prolific first five NFL starts of any Bengals quarterback in history.
A better passer rating (99.4) than 1969 AFL Rookie of the Year Greg Cook (97.4). More yards (1,515) than long bomber Jeff Blake (1,410). More touchdowns (seven) than Ring of Honor Member Boomer Esiason (five). A better completion percentage (73.7) than the NFL's all-time completion percentage leader Joe Burrow (65.2).
And consider, they are the only first five starts strung together in the crushing crucible of November and December during a playoff bid. With a 3-2 record, only Cook (4-1) has more wins in his first five.
But all those numbers seemed lost on Browning Saturday night.
Both losses have come to the AFC North rival Steelers. And the last one on Saturday, 34-11 at Acrisure Stadium, came in his first multiple interception game with the three picks translating to 17 Pittsburgh points.
Browning took it hard in the postgame, alternating between "dumb,' and "stupid," as he described the turnovers that always seem to decide AFC North games. (In the Bengals' first-ever AFC North game, a 2002 loss to Cleveland, they had three turnovers and the Browns had none. Just like Saturday.)
But Bengals head coach Zac Taylor thought his quarterback was too hard on himself. Especially after the Bengals fell behind by 14 points in the game's first 15:39, certain death against the Steelers' pass rush in their building.
"Nobody was good enough yesterday. Jake is the quarterback, so he gets it front and center and I appreciate him taking ownership of that. But that wasn't good enough," Taylor said. "There are a lot of areas that weren't good enough to support him. That's just part of team football and I think great teams respond the right way and pull together and don't point fingers on one guy.
"We put them in a tough situation with the pass rush they have. To put ourselves in a hole and had to drop back. That's not a great way to play against those guys. We didn't do enough to support him, either."
Browning, who threw three interceptions in his first four starts, was fuming at himself in the moments right after the game.
"I think the first two were dumb decisions. Then the third one was obviously a dumb decision, too," Browning offered. "But the third one, there's a little more you're trying to get something going and you've got to be more aggressive. But … the first one, we have a great drive. We stall out in the red zone. Just throw it out of bounds, take three points, keep pushing. And I'll just keep going back to I've got to find a way to make those three throws incompletions because who knows how that affects the outcome of the game.
"You know this is going to be a very physical game and it's going to go back and forth and the records do no matter. And the momentum doesn't matter. And I think I didn't feel like it was something where they snuck up on us or anything like that. They kicked our ass. And I made some dumb decisions with the ball in my hand."
Taylor agreed with his quarterback on only thing. The first interception can't happen. Not an end-zone interception thrown from the Pittsburgh 15 at a point when a field goal settles things down at 7-3.
"The first (interception) very simple. Just throw it further out of bounds. There's not much to be said there. He knows that," Taylor said. "The other two are kind of what happens when you face a good pass rush and you get behind in a game and you start trying to push the ball down the field and guys get underneath in those zones and pick it off."
The thing about Browning, so highly-regarded around here for his acumen, is that he has learned something every time out. He has also been up-and-close personal watching Burrow rack up a 3-1 edge over the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, next week's foe in Kansas City on New Year's Eve.
"I think I just want to be in the situation where I feel like this after a loss. I want to be the guy in the arena. I want to be the guy playing," Browning said. "Just remembering that. And also knowing that there's going to be positive takeaways from every film. Obviously, there's not as many when you throw three picks. It's not like I'm trying to put a positive spin on how I played, but there is going to be takeaways on both sides, good and bad. And taking those and applying it to practice and continue to get better every week.
"For me, it's really focused on trying to get some takeaways from this game that can help me improve for the Kansa City game."
INJURY UPDATE: No news on Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (shoulder)and there won't be until the Bengals re-convene Wednesday after getting Christmas Monday and their regular Tuesday off. Chase (shoulder) did travel to Pittsburgh even though he was inactive.
"We'll take it day-to-day with him.," Taylor said. "What is today? Sunday? We practice on Wednesday, so I'm not going to go there yet."
They hope No. 1 cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (ankle) can come back off injured reserve in time for the Chiefs. He's eligible to start practicing.
"We'll get him back on the field, see what he looks like," Taylor said.
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Clearly, they have plans for sixth-rounder Andrei Iosivas, the wide receiver from Princeton. With Chase out Saturday, he had a career-best four catches for 36 yards on a season-high 46 snaps, 20 more than what he had in Arizona back in October. He has also had a great leaping catch on the sideline that didn't hold up under review.
"Andrei's a guy who's had the right approach. He's in there just waiting for an opportunity, and this week will be a totally different challenge," Taylor said. "They're going to put their hands all over you and it won't be as much the free access stuff that he was getting. But he made (the most of) the opportunities that were there.
"He had the one that fell short a little bit on the curl route that we dropped, but made a great catch on the sidelines that I should have just tempo'd it and snapped the ball. He caught the ball, he just didn't quite get down. He did some good things and positive things that we're going to continue to build on because he'll continue to be a big part of what we do going forward." …
The Bengals came into the game allowing a league-high 8.1 yards per pass and three completions of at least 44 yards against the Steelers won't help.
"I just think overall, those three explosives are really what got us on defense," Taylor said. "You take those out, which you can't, because that led to a lot of points and the turnovers on offense led the points as well. There were positives there, but just collectively as a team we didn't do enough to win this game." …
Not a lot of analytics involved on the two-point conversion that cut it to 24-8 on Browning's shovel pass to running back Joe Mixon on the first series of the second half. But a good conversation with numbers guru Sam Francis at halftime.
"Just try to turn it into a two-score game at that point. You feel confidence when you get down 24-8, if we can get the ball back and score again, it's a whole different game and now you put the pressure on them, 24-16, a one-score game," Taylor said. "That's what's going through your mind and there's a confidence there from our team that we were going to make that happen …At least for some time … we (thought we) were going to have a chance to pull back in that game." …