Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor announced Monday he is going back to Andy Dalton at quarterback, and he’s hoping not to have to make any more changes this season.
Taylor had benched Dalton going into the Week 9 bye, saying it was time to see what rookie Ryan Finley could provide, but Finley struggled in three games and it was clear the Bengals’ best chance for a win would be with the veteran Dalton.
Finley was 41-of-87 passing (47.1 percent) for 474 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions and three fumbles lost over three starts. He had two turnovers in Sunday’s 16-10 loss to the Steelers, a game in which he finished with a season-high 84.1 quarterback rating.
Dalton will return to the starting lineup Sunday as the Bengals host the N.Y. Jets at Paul Brown Stadium. He was unavailable for comment Monday.
“It’s been tough,” Taylor said. “Both those guys, … it’s not an easy decision any time we’ve had to make it, which is twice this year, but it’s in the best interest of the football team right now to do this and get Andy out there. We’re going to face some good defenses these next couple weeks. We’ve seen a lot of challenges, and we feel like he’s going to give us an opportunity to win the game.”
Taylor said Sunday that three games isn’t enough to evaluate a rookie quarterback, and he re-iterated that Finley’s fate isn’t yet determined. For now, the best way to win games appears with Dalton.
“I don’t think it was ever too much for him,” Taylor said of Finley. “We’ve obviously had our challenges on offense, regardless of who’s playing quarterback. You can say it’s not fair to either one of those guys the times they’ve gotten pulled, and you’ve heard my thoughts on: ‘You’ve got to give a rookie some time to play,’ but as I sleep on it and think through it, Andy gives us a great chance to go win a game here.
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“Ryan has done everything we’ve asked him to do. It’s hard to be a rookie quarterback in this league, and he still has a bright future here. You want to explain to him this doesn’t change the future with us. It’s been a tough stretch. It’s going to continue to be a tough stretch. We know that. We just had to make the decision to put Andy back in.”
Taylor didn’t want to rule out a return for Finley but said he hopes Dalton can get the Bengals some wins, especially as he looks to build momentum for next year.
When asked if the second change indicates the Bengals are up in the air about their quarterback of the future, Taylor said his focus is on getting a win over the Jets. The potential of winning with Dalton could impact the Bengals’ draft positioning, which currently has them taking the No. 1 overall pick as the only team in the league with less than two wins.
However, Taylor said he isn’t thinking about the draft.
At the time Taylor benched Dalton, it appeared to indicate the team will be looking for a new quarterback, unless Finley showed he could step in and be competitive right away. Dalton initially expressed a desire to be traded, but the Bengals weren’t interested in moving him – or anyone else.
Taylor said that didn’t negatively impact his relationship with Dalton, who has remained engaged during games and practices and doing everything he could to help Finley from the sidelines.
“Andy and I have had many, many conversations since all that happened,” Taylor said. “Before and after. We’ve been on the same page. Andy’s handled it as well as you could hope any veteran would. He wants to play, he feels he can help the team win, but at the same time was still a leader for us and going about things the right way when he wasn’t the starting quarterback. He and I always had a relationship where we can be open with each other, so we appreciate that, and now we are relying on him to help us win games and he’s going to take that and run with it.”
Many of the veterans in the locker room didn’t seem to agree with the decision to bench Dalton, though they remained publicly supportive of Taylor. The first-year head coach said his decision to turn back to Dalton had nothing to do with fear he would lose the locker room if he didn’t.
Taylor also noted that Dalton’s status doesn’t have any impact on whether A.J. Green will play or not. Green and Dalton were drafted together, and Green was one of the few individuals that Taylor spoke with directly after he made the decision to start Finley.
“I think the team has understood everything we’ve done up to this point, and I always have an open door for those guys to talk,” he said. “At times throughout the season, people have felt like they needed to, they have and they know I’m going to. be open with them. I feel like we’re in a good place with the locker room and have been throughout the whole season.”
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