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Remaining schedule and Burrow’s injury provide daunting challenge if Bengals want to make playoffs

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Even before Joe Burrow’s season-ending wrist injury was announced, the Cincinnati Bengals already were facing a challenging road in trying to get back to the playoffs for a third straight season.

Without Burrow, that might be too big of a hill to climb.

Thursday night’s 34-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens evened the Bengals’ record at 5-5. When Jake Browning walks into the complex on Monday to begin preparations for the Nov. 26 game against Pittsburgh, it will be for a team that is only one game out of wild-card spot.

However, the Bengals are an AFC-worst 1-5 in conference games and are winless in their three division matchups.

Cincinnati’s six remaining opponents — it plays the Steelers twice — are .500 or better. If there is any modicum of hope, it is that Indianapolis, Minnesota and Cleveland also are fielding backup quarterbacks.

“I don’t feel a lot of weight. Maybe I’m the one off with that assessment,” Browning told reporters on Friday. “I think I would be doing myself a disservice if I started hopping into all the different narratives of a good player going down. Not really my job. 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,’ everything else kind of falls into place.”

Browning spent the past two seasons on the Bengals’ practice squad before being elevated to Burrow’s backup this season. Against the Ravens, Browning was 8 of 14 for 68 yards and threw a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.

Browning played at the University of Washington, where he was a four-year starter and led the Huskies to a pair of Pac-12 titles. He went undrafted, though, and spent the 2019 and ’20 seasons on Minnesota’s practice squad.

Coach Zac Taylor said that Taylor getting a lot of snaps during training camp, when Burrow was out because of a calf injury, and being in Cincinnati for three seasons was a benefit when trying to install a game plan.

“I feel really comfortable he can do all the things we ask our guys to do in our offense. So, it doesn’t take anything off the table,” Taylor said. “Obviously, you want to continue to play to his strengths. You continue to change conversations from, ‘Hey, Joe, what do you like in the plan?’ to more, ’Hey, Jake, what do you feel most comfortable about in these situations?’ That’s the only thing that really changes within the scope of our offense. Everything stays on the table.”

WHAT’S WORKING

Browning showed he can be shifty when pressured. He was sacked three times, but he also gained 40 yards on four quarterback scrambles, including two that picked up a first down.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Logan Wilson’s reputation. The linebacker was taken to task by some Ravens players and coach John Harbaugh after it appeared Wilson used a hip-drop tackle to bring down Mark Andrews on the opening drive of the game. Andrews suffered a season-ending ankle injury on the play, when he fumbled the ball and Wilson recovered at the Bengals 4-yard line.

“It’s been brought to my attention the narrative that’s out there right now, which I think is completely reckless. He plays the game the right way. People have gotten ahead of themselves. Labeled him a certain way. It’s frustrating to see that,” Taylor said Friday. “I know what the guy is about and that guys are playing the game the right way. It’s unfortunate any time a player gets injured. But he’s a guy I’m proud to coach and proud to be a part of this team.”

STOCK UP

Rookie safety Jordan Battle had a season-high 11 tackles, including 10 solo stops. He also saw a season-best 57 snaps.

STOCK DOWN

Offensive tackle Orlando Brown allowed five quarterback pressures in 14 one-on-one matchups against Baltimore linebacker Odafe Oweh. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Brown has allowed 31 quick pressures this season, seven more than any other offensive lineman in the NFL. Quick pressures are defined as the quarterback being pressured within 2 1/2 seconds after the snap.

INJURIES

Taylor had no updates on CB Cam Taylor-Britt, who left the game because of a thigh bruise, as well as WR Tee Higgins (hamstring) and DE Sam Hubbard (ankle), who were inactive.

KEY NUMBER

5 — Seasons since 2008 that a Bengals starting quarterback has not been able to finish the season. There was Carson Palmer in 2008, Andy Dalton in 2015 and ’18 and Burrow in 2020 before this season.

NEXT STEPS

The Bengals look to avoid dropping their first four AFC North games for the first time since 2020 when they hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 26.

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APNFL: /hub/NFL

Sports writer based in Los Angeles.