Kevin Hogan was elevated from the practice squad Monday to give the Bengals a backup on the bench, but Finley pulled through in executing a game plan designed around the running game and the Bengals got their first win over the rival Steelers since 2015.
The 2019 fourth-round draft completed 7 of 13 passes for 89 yards and a 14-yard touchdown to Giovani Bernard, and he added 47 yards on 10 carries with a 23-yard rushing touchdown that gave Cincinnati a 24-10 lead in the fourth quarter. Finley had struggled in three late-game appearances off the bench, taking seven sacks and throwing two interceptions in 34 snaps.
“I feel like he was way more confident,” wide receiver Tee Higgins said. “You could tell. He was running the ball really well. He was just calm during the whole game and that’s what you want out of your quarterback.”
No quarterback was made available in Zoom sessions with media Wednesday, when normally the starter will speak. However, after Monday night’s game Finely indicated how helpful it was getting first-team reps in practice all week and seeing things unfold behind center in the walk-throughs. As the backup, he didn’t get that chance while running the scout team offense.
Taylor said he’s seen growth since Finley’s three starts last year when he completed just 47.1 percent of his passes and had five turnovers.
“This year he’s obviously been put in tough spots coming in late in games,” Taylor said. “That’s a challenge, but everybody continues to grow from their experience and Finley is no different. The more experience you get on the field, the better you’re going to be and you can learn from all those experiences. You have to. If you don’t, then that’s on you and so again, I just thought he played a very great game the other night and gave us a great chance to win.”
The Bengals still need to know they can throw the ball when the game dictates for more of it.
Finley made some good throws Monday, including a 30-yard pass to A.J. Green, but they often were followed by bad ones. Right after connecting with Green, he underthrew a deep ball to Tyler Boyd, who landed on his back trying to make a play and ended up banging his head on the ground. Boyd remains in concussion protocol and is “day-to-day,” according to Taylor.
Taylor said the emphasis on the running game Monday was by design because of the opponent and getting an early 17-0 lead with the help of three takeaways -- not because of any thought Finley couldn’t handle more passing. If he gets another chance Sunday, Finley will need to do everything he can to avoid getting hit by another Watt brother, this time with T.J. Watt rushing the passer.
“That’s just the nature of the game when you’re playing the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Taylor said. “They get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, even with the four-man rush. We have a ton of respect for their rushers and they’re very aggressive with how they’re going to attack the quarterback in the pass game, so a lot of that was by design. That’s not a reflection of Finley. It’s just by design on how we knew we needed to play the game. And like I said earlier, when you get the three turnovers early, it allows you to continue to play the game a certain way, as opposed to if you’re playing down 10-0 or 14-7 or something like that. It just allows you to call the game a certain way. That was more a reflection on how we wanted to beat the Steelers rather than a reflection on Ryan Finley.”
Bengals at Texans, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7