Bengals Upsetting Jaguars on MNF Shakes Up AFC Playoff Races

The Jacksonville Jaguars entered Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals with eyes on the AFC’s No. 1 overall seed and in control of their own playoff destiny. A resilient Bengals squad had different ideas.

Backup quarterback Jake Browning threw for 354 yards and a touchdown in his second-career start during a 34-31 Bengals overtime win over the Jaguars on Monday Night Football.

Instead of moving atop the playoff field, Jacksonville fell to 8-4 and is only a game above the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans in the AFC South. Plus, the availability of quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who left the game with an ankle injury, is in question. But Cincinnati, losers of three in a row and without Joe Burrow, got back to .500 with a win the franchise desperately needed to stay afloat in a crowded conference that just got tighter.

“Big win, really needed that one,” Browning said after Cincinnati’s first road win on Monday Night Football since 1990. “Fun to do it on Monday night against a really good Jacksonville team who will be in the playoff hunt going forward. Yeah, [it] felt good.”

The Miami Dolphins (9-3), Baltimore Ravens (9-3), Kansas City Chiefs (8-4) and Jaguars lead the four AFC divisions as Week 13 comes to a close. And the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5), Cleveland Browns (7-5) and Colts (7-5) are slotted into the three Wild Card spots. That could change soon enough. Entering Week 14, 11 teams in the conference are at .500 or above.

And that, somewhat improbably, includes the Bengals.

Cincinnati came into Monday’s game as a double-digit underdog, according to several sportsbooks. The Bengals were also coming off of their first full game without Burrow, in which Browning was sacked four times, fumbled and threw a pick in a loss to the Steelers.

Apparently, the 27-year-old knows how to bounce back. Browning completed 32 of his 37 passes and added a rushing touchdown in Jacksonville. He is one of only six quarterbacks—a list that includes Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees—to throw for 350 or more yards and complete at least 85 percent of his passes in an NFL game over the past 20 years, according to CBS Sports.

“He just lit the world on fire,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said of Browning.

The Bengals remain in last place in a loaded AFC North. But the Steelers and Browns both lost on Sunday, and with a win Cincy’s (6-6) playoff dreams are closer to a reality. Cincinnati is one game back of those two division rivals and now has the same record as two other playoff hopefuls: the Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills. It may be a tough road to actually reach the postseason for Taylor’s team. The Bengals have the eighth-toughest remaining schedule in the league, based on opponent win percentage.

Cincinnati has about a 10 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to the New York Times‘ Upshot simulator. Not great. But perhaps better than anticipated without Burrow.

And, speaking of injuries to star QBs, head coach Doug Pederson told reporters on Tuesday that Lawrence has a high-ankle sprain and that everything is “stable.” Pederson said he was not ready to put a timetable on the injury, though there is a chance the QB will play as soon as next weekend. So the season-ending fears have been avoided.

Backup C.J. Beathard completed nine of his 10 passes for 63 yards in relief and led the Jaguars on a field goal drive to tie the game right before overtime.

“The first instinct is, it just sucks for Trevor,” said Beathard, who, Pederson said, the team is confident in if Lawrence misses time. “You see him on the ground hurting. That sucks. It kind of takes your breath away on the sideline, all the guys. You’ve got to drive and try to tie the game and win the game. You don’t have much time for the nerves to kick in. You just kind of have to go.”

The Jags play the Browns and Ravens over the next two weeks and can ill afford losses to either of those teams in playoff position without possibly falling out of first place in the AFC South. Indy has won four games in a row with backup Gardner Minshew. Houston has grabbed four of its last five with rookie C.J. Stroud. And a division that may have seemed to be Jacksonville’s for the taking is now among the tightest in football.

The Jags are already a combined 3-1 against the Colts and Texans this season.

Jacksonville has the easiest remaining schedule among the three teams. But the team’s loss to the Bengals shifted the playoff picture. And now Lawrence’s availability may end up deciding who wins the South, who may earn a Wild Card spot and who watches the playoffs from home.

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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