The Bengals had a rite of succession for 2023 Friday as Jake Browning next-manned-up Joe Burrow and became the quarterback to steer the Bengals into the Wild Card scramble.
After Burrow briefed the media on his season-ending torn ligament in his throwing wrist and Browning conducted his last locker interview before ascending to Burrow's podium next week, public relations mavens Emily Parker and P.J. Combs walked Browning through his weekly media responsibilities.
Browning, who won a Pac 12-record 39 games at the University of Washington before turning pro, has been around. He nodded and just wanted Parker and Combs to know that he's a creature of routine.
They had to love that part where his routine doesn't involve countering narratives saying the Bengals are done without Burow. At 5-5 and three of the seven remaining games against AFC North teams, a run gets them in. The Bengals are locked up with the 5-5 Colts, Raiders, and Bills behind the seven playoff teams.
"Not really my job," Browning said. "My job is to keep trying to get better, focus on the day-to-day, week-to week, and game-to-game. It sounds kind of repetitive, but there's a lot of different ways your mind can go. If you take everything and just narrow it down to, 'hey, here's what I really need to focus on, here's what actually matters.' And everything else kind of falls into place."
Browning needed routine during his first two years here as a practice squad quarterback on a team with an elite quarterback.
"I feel good here. I've taken the last couple years of learning an offense that's pretty quarterback friendly. And being around Joe, seeing how he operates," Browning said. "And then just really there's not a lot in practice or with coaches where they're focused on my development, so that's been my job to make sure I'm still focused on the job of getting better at football and being unsupervised at that. So that's kind of where the routine comes in weekly."
Burrow says he's a lot like Browning and why they've become good friends since Browning signed to the practice squad the week before the 2021 opener. Burrow is a routine freak, too.
Some routines he doesn't like. As Burrow left the locker room Friday, some media members paid their respects, knowing he probably won't do an interview here until 2024.
"See you in April," one said, and Burrow laughed and said, "See you in April."
"He's very even-keeled. No moment is too big for him," Burrow said. "He went in on Thursday Night Football, on a short week, without having practiced and played well. He's a guy that's going to continue to get better and no moment is too big for him."
But there's not many, if any, made like Burrow, the charismatic and prolific face of the franchise who has been through so much and done so much. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor has watched an appendectomy and a calf strain swallow two training camps. He's seen a torn ACL and now the wrist injury rob him of 15 games.
For the second time in his four seasons, Burrow is on injured reserve when he celebrates a birthday. He turns 27 when Browning plays the Colts on Dec. 10 at Paycor Stadium. Taylor and Burrow were asked Friday if they're concerned about the toll on his body and being.
They're not even thinking about that, because, well, he's Joseph Lee Burrow.
"I think if he was a normal human being, you'd worry about it. He's not. He's wired differently. He's programmed differently," Taylor said. "We are fortunate to have him. That's why he has achieved all the things in his lifetime that he has. He's just built a little bit different to be able to overcome setbacks and challenges and plays with a chip on his shoulder, all the things you can say about a guy like that. That's why I've got confidence he'll respond from this the right way at the right time. That's just part of how Joe is built."
He's built stout compartments. The knee isn't related to the calf isn't related to the wrist.
"I'm just going to treat it like anything else," Burrow said. "You analyze the situation. You go through the process of what it's going to take to get back and you go and do it. That's all you can do."
Burrow is one of these guys who becomes the job. His 8 p.m. bed time leading up to Sundays got huge play last week, but that's the kind of sacrifice he thinks he needs to make for winning rest and recovery. He spends hours on his arm and shoulder, icing it, heating it, whatever they need.
He's always seems to be going the extra yard, the extra sacrifice. And now he's headed to IR again. But he's not lashing out saying why me? This isn't exactly The Godfather and "this is the business we have chosen." But it does sound familiar.
"It's tough but that's the life we live. That's football. You're going to get injured," Burrow said. "Things are going to happen. You're going to have to overcome things. Everybody's overcome things in their career to where they're at. Everybody in that locker room has. Everybody across the league has. This is nothing different from anything anybody else has experienced. It is what it is."
What it is, is, Burrow should be as good as new after surgery and until then he'll be around to help Browning, which is what guys who are all in do. It already began Friday.
'We watch the tape together. Just try to give him any insight on things that I've experienced and watched in my mindset playing over the last couple years," Burrow said. "I'll give him as much or as little as he wants. He's going to do a great job."
Browning's first NFL start comes against the Steelers at home on Nov. 26, but he's played a lot of pro ball. Yes, a lot of practices as the scout team guy simulating another offense. But a guy who has also thrown to Burow's Big Three in the heat of two training camps.
"I trust Jake," said one of them Thursday night, slot receiver Tyler Boyd. "He's been in the system. He knows it. I'm ready to play with him."
That's because Browning has been around here for three years and made a lot of friends. You can do that in his role and he's sensing the locker room rallying to him. And it is that kind of generous locker room that Taylor brags about.
"I've been close to everybody in the locker room for a while, worked really hard behind the scenes. I think a lot of guys have seen that, so I think there's 'some rally around the guy that's getting a chance," Browning said. " I think you kind of saw that last year. I remember watching Trenton Irwin get that chance and stepping up to the challenge. It was like 'All right. That was pretty cool to see. That's going to be me at some point.' Now that opportunity is here and I'm looking to make the most of it.
"I think there's a lot more that goes on in the locker room, a lot more close friendships and connections with teammates. It's not like I just got here two weeks ago. I've been here for a long time helping the defense out a lot, talking to everybody. I'm kind of like the counselor. I know everything that's going on, but I'm not right in the heat of it. So if some guy needs to go vent about something, I'm usually the guy they're going to go to. I've got a lot of close friendships in this locker room. It's a great locker room. Zac does a great job getting guys in here and rallying around and keeping them positive."
Browning has also been around long enough that when he came off the bench Thursday night for his first play against the NFL's top scoring defense and sackers, he executed a nice play-action rollout the other way in the teeth of all that speed and threw a first-down strike to Irwin over the middle. That was his favorite play from Thursday.
And remember, he hadn't taken a live snap in practice with the first unit since the last week in September, when Burrow's calf issue had been re-aggravated and was questionable heading into week three.
"I think coming off the sideline and throwing a naked to my left, kind of jump throwing and side-arming and throwing a good ball to TI. Once that kind of happens, it was like, here we go," Browning said.
Now it's time to go because Wild Cards are being dealt.
"Once I came back out (after halftime), he was he was playing well and I see him every day. I know what he's capable of," Burrow said of his successor for this season. "He plays a lot like I do. He's going to do a great job. He's going to continue to get better week after week. That's something that happens with reps, and I'm excited to watch him go out and do his thing."
The torch, for now, has been passed, and Browning hopes to use it to light a playoff run.