Jake-mania keeps rolling.
Quarterback Jake Browning pitched the Bengals back into the thick of the AFC playoff picture Sunday at sleet-streaked Paycor Stadium when he hit 75% more of his passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns to engineer 7-6 Cincinnati to a 34-14 victory over the 7-6 Colts.
Running back Joe Mixon ran for 79 yards on 21 carries and Pro Bowl right end Trey Hendrickson took over the fourth quarter. He had one of his two sacks and pulled Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew II's arm on another snap to set up defensive tackle B.J. Hill's first career regular-season interception as the Bengals defense suffocated Indy on 46 rushing yards. Half the 18 attempts went for two yards or less.
With the Bengals up, 28-14 in the first minute of the fourth quarter, Browning came running off the field holding his right thumb and kept running with Bengals athletic trainer Mike Houck into the locker room, where it was discovered he had a cramp.
A week after the Colts blocked two punts, the Bengals turned the special teams tables early in the fourth quarter when Isaiah McKenzie muffed a punt and rookie cornerback DJ Ivey recovered at the Colts 12. That translated into an Evan McPherson field goal for a 31-14 lead.
But not before No. 3 QB AJ McCarron appeared to throw his first NFL touchdown pass since he threw six for the Bengals in 2015 after Andy Dalton broke, of all things, his thumb. But wide receiver Tee Higgins (two catches for 72 yards) was called for pushing off and Browning was back, fresh off an IV, to hand off a 111-yard rushing effort in their first back-to-back 100-yard games of the season as he finished 18 of 24 and a 122.7 passer rating.
The Bengals built the lead to 28-14 when Mixon lined up at fullback in front of rookie running back Chase Brown and bulled inside the 5 to convert a fourth-and-one. Browning then went under center from the 1 and when tackle Orlando Brown folded down the entire left side, Mixon pushed Browning into the end zone for a 28-14 lead with 2:59 left in the third quarter.
At that point, Browning was 16 of 21 for 249 yards with the big play in that drive a twisting 46-yard over-the-head catch on a ball Higgins adjusted nicely. The second half opened with Browning throwing tight end Tanner Hudson his first NFL touchdown pass, from 11 yards away, to put the Bengals up 21-14, but it was Hudson's third-and-nine conversion in the red zone that allowed them to go up 28-14.
With one tight end kept in to block for him (Drew Sample), Browning hit another one on third-and-nine as Hudson beat safety Julian Blackmon on an out for 10 yards.
Browning came out dishing in the second half as he led the resilient Bengals out of a hole. He found Higgins for 26 yards for his first catch of the day and then followed it with a short 14-yard YAC to wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, his second catch of the day, on his way to three catches for 29.
The Bengals had a 14-0 lead evaporate in a stunning 25-second span late in the first half.
Hendrickson logged at least half a sack in his fifth straight game on the first snap of the day when he got a full one. But with the Bengals up, 14-0, and the Colts failing on a third-and-15 for a three-and-out, Hendrickson was called for roughing Minshew and it allowed the Colts back in the game on a game-sucking 17-play drive.
Minshew slung-shot a third-and-11 conversion to wide receiver Alec Pierce between cornerback DJ Turner and slot cornerback Mike Hilton and then Minshew scrambled for a first down on third-and-six. Then on fourth-and-one from the Bengals 2, Minshew went play-action and lobbed a touchdown pass to tight end Mo Alie-Cox coming off the line against linebacker Logan Wilson for Alie-Cox's seventh catch of the season with 1:56 left in the first half.
The ensuing missed extra point didn't matter because Browning threw a ball inside to Hudson and when Hudson went to one knee, linebacker Ronnie Harrison Jr. swiped it from him for a 36-yard interception return with 1:31 left in the half.
When Minshew hit wide receiver Michael Pittman in the back corner for the two-pointer, the Bengals went into the half tied at 14 even though they had outgained the Colts, 173-150.
Browning hit his first six passes of the game and finished the half eight of 13 for 135 yards even though Ja'Marr Chase had one catch for 14 yards and Higgins had none. Instead, the Bengals' two biggest plays of the half were screen passes.
Chase Brown scored his first NFL touchdown on the longest play by a Bengals running back in six years, when Giovani Bernard scored on a 61-yard pass play. On this one Brown went 54 yards on a screen when they caught the Colts in a blitz.
On his first snap of the day, Brown carried out a play-action fake. Center Ted Karras warded off blitzing cornerback Kenny Moore and Browning flicked it to Brown in the flat and Brown accelerated down the left sideline with that 4.3-second 40-yard home-run speed the Bengals sought in the fifth round of the draft. When safety Rodney Thomas went to knock him out of bounds, Brown left him flailing when he cut back to the field.
Colts kicker Matt Gay's first miss inside the 40-yard-line this season hit the left upright from 38 yards after Logan Wilson broke up a second-down lob to tight end Kylen Granson in the end zone. It was the ninth time this season the Bengals prevented points on a red-zone stand.
The Bengals went up 14-0 with the help of two crushing penalties on the Colts inside the Indy 16. One gave the Bengals life after McPherson's 32-yard field goal and another gave the Bengals a first down after Browning was sacked.
Mixon made it hurt with his third touchdown in two games from a yard out, which was fitting. It was Mixon's 45-yard ramble off a screen that made it possible on his longest catch since a 52-yarder in 2021.