Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said he is still looking to win games this season and the decision to bench veteran quarterback Andy Dalton in favor of rookie Ryan Finley came with that in mind.
The quarterback position is one spot where the Bengals had a backup who hadn’t played through the 0-8 start, so Taylor said he came to the conclusion it was time to see what Finley could provide, especially with the bye week allowing him extra time to prepare.
Finley, a fourth-round draft pick in April, will make his NFL debut as the starter Nov. 10 at home against the Baltimore Ravens. No other moves or changes had been announced as of the 4 p.m. trade deadline Tuesday.
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“It was not an easy decision to make,” Taylor said during a press conference Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium. “It was very hard. … He’s put his heart and soul into getting this thing right, and the hard thing now is when you’re 0-8 and you make a quarterback switch, people tend to look at the quarterback and say he was the problem, and that’s the furthest thing from the truth. He’s done a lot of things to keep us going and he’s invested a lot of time, effort and energy into getting us a win, and it hasn’t happened. It’s unfortunate because he’s represented the organization the right way over the last nine years, and he’s been everything you would have asked in that regard. … Our objective now is to win this next game and as many games as we can after that.”
Dalton, who turned 32 on Tuesday, leads the NFL in completions (204) and attempts (338) this season. He threw for 329 yards and a touchdown without any turnovers Sunday in a loss to the L.A. Rams in London, following a three-interception outing the week prior. He’s passed for 2,252 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions this season, his ninth year.
Taylor said the team still could win games with Dalton, but Finley deserves a chance to show what he can do. After a rough start during the team’s offseason workout program, Finley turned a corner during training camp and was impressive in the preseason, completing 73.4 percent (47-of-64) of his passes for three touchdowns and one interception.
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“We want to win the next eight games, and Andy would give us the chance to do that, but I felt like now is the time if you’re going to do it, let’s go ahead and make the switch and get behind Ryan and try to go win these next couple games,” Taylor said. “…Everybody else plays that’s on our roster. It’s really the only position where there’s a guy sitting on the bench, and you don’t know what you’ve got until you see it.”
Taylor informed both Dalton and Finley of the change Tuesday morning, then addressed the rest of the team by position group with at least one exception. He told wide receiver A.J. Green, who was drafted the same year as Dalton, individually.
Green is in the last year of his contract and almost every pass he’s ever caught in the NFL came from Dalton, but Taylor said he took the news well. Taylor doesn’t expect the decision to make Green any less interested in playing for Cincinnati, especially as he continues to work back from an ankle injury that has sidelined time since the first day of training camp.
“He’s been motivated every single week since the injury occurred,” Taylor said. “Not for one second has anyone in this building doubted there’s any other motivation there. He’s hungry and you can see it in his eyes.”
Green left before media had a chance to speak to him Tuesday, as did Dalton. Finley said he didn’t want to speak until Taylor had a chance to address the media.
Players said they weren’t expecting the change. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap said it sent shock waves through the locker room.
“For them to make a decision like that, that’s a huge decision to sit down a nine-year starter and go with Ryan, get a look at him,” Dunlap said.
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who sits next to Dalton in the locker room, didn’t notice anything different about Dalton’s demeanor and expects him to still be a leader for the team. Boyd is ready to rally behind Finley, regardless.
“He’s a very competitive guy,” Boyd said of Finley. “I know that by sitting here and beating him at ping pong. But, I trust him. I believe in the decision, but at the same time, it’s sucks for Andy. That would have been my guy. That’s been the guy that helped me elevate my game, so I appreciate that. It’s a hard decision at the end of the day because this is a business, and nobody knows when things are going to change and however it works. But at the end of the day, I trust Finley, and I feel like we can do good with him.”
Taylor said he didn’t want to speak about the trade deadline, which passed Tuesday, 90 minutes after Taylor’s press conference. However, he said the change in quarterback is not any indication the team is looking toward a rebuild for 2020.
“I don’t want to speculate about 2020,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to win games right now, and we feel like there’s been enough talent to win some of the games we’ve lost. Just for a number of reasons we haven’t done that. Our focus right now is on winning this next game and winning as best we can after that.”
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