CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 24: Ryan Finley #5 of the Cincinnati Bengals is seen on the bench area late in the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Archdeacon: Tanking? As losses mount, Bengals try to avoid ‘negative energy’

One bag head promoted the thought “Chasing Young, Not Wins.”

It meant if the Cincinnati Bengals keep losing – and right now they are the only winless team in the NFL – they’ll get the first pick in the NFL draft and be able to grab Ohio State’s herculean defensive end Chase Young.

Another guy’s bag came with the message: “Burrow Bowl Bound,” a reference to drafting Joe Burrow, the quarterback of unbeaten, No. 1 ranked Louisiana State and a likely upgrade to the Bengals current quarterback, besieged rookie Ryan Finley, a fourth-round pick in last year’s draft.

Then there was the fan who paraded around with the sign that simply said: “Tank for Joe Burrow.”

In the Bengals locker room afterward, receiver Tyler Boyd – who had been involved in the three biggest exclamation point plays of the game for Cincinnati – was asked what he thought about the “Tank” sign.

“That’s negative energy,” he said as he stood at his dressing stall, which happens to be right next to the locker of deposed veteran quarterback Andy Dalton and just three berths the other way from Finley’s spot.

“Football is about energy,” Boyd said. “ We don’t come in here and work our tails off every single day and (then) prepare to lose. We’re not preparing to get a first round draft pick so we can get whoever the best player is. One guy is not gonna change this. At the end of the day we’re the ones who have to fix it.

“And we’re trying. Nobody (in the stands) knows what’s going on in the locker room”

After the game – where the loss set a new record for Bengals futility with the franchise’s first 0-11 start to a season – here’s some of what was going on behind closed doors among the Cincinnati players.

Dalton – the Bengals starting quarterback for nine seasons until new head coach Zac Taylor replaced him three games ago with the untested Finley – dressed quietly in the corner.

Once he’d zipped up the jacket of his black sweat suit, put on is backpack and pulled a black watch cap over his red locks, he was about to be one of the first players out the door when he noticed Finley, still in uniform, sitting numbly in front of his locker.

The rookie quarterback — who had lost another costly fumbled, been sacked four times and completed 12 of 26 passes for 192 yards and a 15-yard touchdown to Boyd — stared straight ahead after initially slumping there with his head in his hands.

As the media throng crowded around Boyd – who had five catches for 101 yards, but also had had a costly fumble of his own seven yards from the end zone, a turnover which he said cost his team its first win — Dalton slipped over to Finley, whispered something to him and patted him on the back.

Soon after Joe Mixon – who some say is the glue holding this battered team together as the losses mount – walked past Boyd and simply said, “Remember what I said!”

Boyd was asked what that meant and he said Mixon had told him earlier to keep his head up.

That has been he running back’s mantra through the nightmare start to the season. He’s the one guy who continues to play hard and produce, even when he is sometimes slighted in the offensive scheme as he was near game’s end Sunday.

In the Bengals’ second possession of the fourth quarter — just before Boyd had fumbled after gathering in a 22 yard pass that Steelers linebacker Devin Bush had managed to tomahawk chop out of his grasp and his teammate Minkah Fitzpatrick had picked up and returned 36 yards the other way — Mixon had rushed twice for 20 yards. That gave him 79 yards on the days but he would never touch the ball again.

Trailing 13-10 with 5:32 left, Cincinnati got the ball back and Finley threw three incomplete passes.

With 3:18 left the Bengals got the ball again and Finley tried two more passes, the last one ending with a fumble when he was hit by linebacker Bud Dupree as he prepared to throw the ball.

Hanging onto the football is an ongoing problem for Finley and yet Mixon doesn’t grouse publicly about being ignored time and again.

“He’s trying to keep us positive,” Boyd said.

Last Monday, Boyd did voice displeasure about being underused in the loss at Oakland. He was targeted only three times that game and had no catches,

Sunday the Bengals – who must rely on him even more with the injuries to receivers A.J. Green and John Ross – threw to him nine times and he caught five, including one spectacular, one-handed grab of a 47 -yard pass that set up the Bengals only touchdown a play later.

And on that TD catch, Boyd was covered tightly by the Joe Haden, but simply out-scrapped the Steelers cornerback..

“All I wanted was for them to give me a chance,” Boyd said of Finley and Taylor. “One on one I think I can beat anybody for the ball.”

His efforts gave Finley his only highlights of the day,

Afterward I asked Taylor if he thought of scrapping the Finley experiment, which isn’t working, and going back to Dalton.

“No Ryan Finley was going to be our quarterback in this game,” he said. “With all personnel things, we go through (them) in the game and think about as the week goes. But I don’t have anything with personnel after the game.”

Somebody pressed him is he could go back to Dalton now that he benched him.

I think the answer should be a definite yes, but Taylor leaned otherwise.

“Right now Ryan s our quarterback,” he said. “it’s not something I even think about.”

He should.

Otherwise those “Tank” signs in the stands will only become more prevalent.

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