It's true: The Huskies’ career passing leader got his big break after years as a practice squad player.
The most prolific passer in Washington Husky history wasn’t really thought to have much of a shot at the pros. Sure, Jake Browning won more games than any quarterback in Pac-12 history (39 in 54 starts), threw for a school-record 12,296 yards, and as a sophomore (!) led the Dawgs to a berth in the 2016 College Football Playoff.
Despite the glowing stats, Browning, ’18, didn’t get picked in the 2019 NFL draft. Sure, as a sophomore, the kid from Folsom, California, threw 43 touchdown passes against just nine interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 167.5, which is close to unheard of. But pro scouts were not impressed with his build, his arm strength and decision-making. The Minnesota Vikings signed him as an undrafted free agent, then he was cut, then he was signed to the Vikings practice squad. Two years later, he was waived and the Cincinnati Bengals signed him to their practice squad, where he survived under the radar, waiting for his chance. Then, in 2023, he beat out Trevor Siemian to be the Bengals’ backup quarterback.
On Sept. 10, Browning saw his first action in an NFL game against the Cleveland Browns. He took first snap in the final minutes of the game, and his only attempted pass went incomplete. Back to the bench he went. Two months later, he came on in relief of injured starter Joe Burrow against the Baltimore Ravens, completing 8 of 14 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown in a 34-20 loss. The next day, word came that Burrow would be lost for the season with a wrist injury. That meant Jake Browning would become the Bengals starter. His first NFL start came in week 11, when he went 19 of 26 passing for 227 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 16-10 loss to Pittsburgh.
On Dec. 4 against the powerful Jacksonville Jaguars, Browning did the unthinkable, completing 32 of 37 passes for 354 yards, with one touchdown pass and one rushing touchdown. His 86.5 percent completion rate is the highest all-time in a quarterback’s first or second career start. The victory enabled the Bengals to snap a three-game losing streak. And it brought back a familiar feeling to the kid whose career football stats outshone those of numerous NFL quarterbacks who played at the UW.
“I haven’t played a lot of football [in recent years], but it’s not like I’m not used to winning,” Browning said after the record-setting game against Jacksonville. “I’ve won a lot of games in my career. None of them have been in the NFL until today, which is obviously noteworthy. I’ve won a lot of football games in my life.”
After the game, Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Browning “lit the world on fire” and that the performance could have a significant impact on the locker room.
“We can see the intangible stuff and the preparation he puts in,” Taylor said. “But when he goes out there and he leads the team like he did, I certainly think it raises the entire confidence level of the team.”
Nice work, Jake.