Audition for Finley continues as winless Bengals consider future plans at QB

Lamar Jackson’s standout performance against the Cincinnati Bengals served as a reminder of how valuable an elite quarterback can be for an organization now evaluating that position heavily.

The Bengals officially moved on from Andy Dalton when they started rookie fourth-round draft pick Ryan Finley in his place Sunday in a 49-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens , and their search for the next franchise quarterback is now underway. According to Dalton, Bengals coach Zac Taylor told him he was making the change to see what Finley can provide as the organization starts looking ahead to the 2020 draft.

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Jackson, a first-round draft pick, stole the show Sunday, and he’s completely changed the outlook for the AFC North-leading Ravens. He completed 15 of 17 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns with a perfect passer rating of 158.3 (his second one this season), and he rushed for 65 yards, including an impressive 47-yard touchdown.

“This is a quarterback-driven league,” Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap said when asked how much a quarterback like Jackson can change things for a team. “…When you have a quarterback playing at the level he is, you are going to be able to do great things, like they are doing. You beat good teams like the Patriots, they got the win on us and he’s making plays every game to put his team in position to win.”

Jackson was the final first-round pick in the 2018 Draft, and there were 31 teams that passed on the former University of Louisville star, including the Bengals, who picked center Billy Price from Ohio State 11 picks earlier.

After realizing last year they needed a better backup than Jeff Driskel, the Bengals took Finley in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Now, they will see what he can provide over the final seven weeks before deciding how to move forward with the quarterback spot.

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“(I’m looking to see him) not making the same mistake twice,” Taylor said. “He’s going to make some mistakes, learn from them, and just rebound to continue to improve to the next week. I liked his focus this week; he was as dialed-in and prepared as you could ask a young quarterback to be. … In fact, he did some good things against a really good defense in his first game and we just have to continue to build off that.”

Finley completed 16 of 30 passes for 167 yards with one interception and one touchdown, he rushed for 22 yards, and he took two sacks, one of which he fumbled. The Ravens returned both of his turnovers for touchdowns.

Despite the turnovers and poor numbers, Finley did show some bright spots, including a fourth-down completion for 24 yards to Tyler Boyd and a 16-yard scamper. Shortly before his interception, he spun away from a free runner up the middle to avoid a sack and rolled out to find Joe Mixon on a long throw across the field, which he turned into a 23-yard gain. After the interception, he responded by directing a 10-play, 70-yard drive while completing four of five passes for 40 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Eifert.

“I think they were second in the league against the rush, so you were pretty certain they were going to be hell-bent on stopping that and making us one-dimensional and making a young quarterback go play, and he really handled things,” Taylor said Monday. “A lot of the checks he did a nice job. Really the interception for a touchdown, he got us to a zero check and was just a tick late, a tick behind, and Marcus Peters is going to make you pay for that, but the mechanics of it he handled well. It’s just a matter of the fundamentals of getting the ball out of your hand, getting it out to the sidelines so Alex (Erickson) can make a play. I thought he did a lot of positives. The keys for him are to learn from the negatives.”

If Finley doesn’t prove to be the answer, it’s likely the Bengals will end up with one of the top two picks in the 2020 draft and many are expecting that will result in the selection of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or LSU’s Joe Burrow, an Ohio native and former Ohio State quarterback. The Bengals haven’t taken a quarterback in the first round since 2003 when they got Carson Palmer with the No. 1 pick.


Bengals at Raiders, 4:25 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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