CINCINNATI - Andy Dalton plopped down behind the microphone in the Paul Brown Stadium interview room, his white Bengals cap turned backward.
“I’m back!” he said, breaking into a smile.
Back, for the rest of the season. Back, after getting over a bitter demotion. Back, trying to get the Bengals that elusive first win.
Coach Zac Taylor ended a failed experiment this week, demoting rookie Ryan Finley and reinstalling Dalton as the starter in hopes of avoiding an 0-16 finish. The Bengals are the last winless team in the NFL, two games worse than any other.
The 11-year veteran will get to finish this season but has no idea what the Bengals have in mind for next year, the last on Dalton’s contract. He’s approaching the last five weeks as a chance to show he can still start for some team.
“I don't know what’s going to happen moving forward but I'm just worried about these next five,” Dalton said.
The Bengals (0-11) are worried about one win, which prompted the unplanned switch back to Dalton.
They’re off to the worst start in club history, and their 11 straight losses are a franchise record for one season. Taylor stunned Dalton by telling him after loss No. 8 that the franchise was going to start Finley to see how he fit into its plans long term. The fourth-round pick completed only 47 per cent of his passes and had five turnovers in three games, prompting Taylor to change his mind.
Dalton was unhappy that the Bengals waited until right before the trade deadline to bench him, leaving no time to explore a trade. He said Wednesday that it took him awhile to get over his bitter feelings.
“Initially it was tough, but I felt like: Why choose to live in bitterness when you don't have to?” he said. “Why choose to be negative when you don't have to? I know in the end it would just be a big part of my story.”
Dalton spent the past three weeks playing the opposing quarterback on the scout team in practice and trying to help Finley get up to speed. He was surprised when Taylor came to him a day after a 16-10 loss to the Steelers and told him he was the starter again.
With only five chances left to avoid an 0-for-’19, Taylor decided to go with the quarterback who provides the best chance to win a game. Dalton’s teammates embraced it.
"Everybody just wants to win, so making the decision, making the change, doing whatever it takes to win is something that resonates heavily on our minds,” tight end C.J. Uzomah said Wednesday.
The Bengals host the Jets (4-7), who have won three in a row and have the league’s top-ranked run defence. Having Dalton at quarterback gives them a better chance against a defence that’s known for disguising coverages.
“When he’s in the huddle there’s just a veteran presence about him and he knows and understands defences really well,” Uzomah said. “He understands defences as a whole. He understands the big picture of everything, so that definitely helps having his leadership.”
The Bengals then go to Cleveland (5-6), host New England (10-1), play at Miami (2-9) and wrap up by hosting the Browns.
Dalton said the transition back to starter should be smooth. He expressed no lingering hard feelings over his benching.
“I understand what Zac was doing,” Dalton said. “Did I agree with it? No. But I was ready to go whenever the time came. Not that I was hoping it would happen — obviously I want to play, but I didn't think there was anything he needed to mend.”
Notes: WR A.J. Green didn’t practice Wednesday and remains day to day, an indication he’s unlikely to play against the Jets. Green hasn’t played this season as he recovers from ankle surgery in training camp. ... LB Nick Vigil also was held out of practice with an ankle injury. ... Strong winds prompted the Bengals to scramble their practice plans. They’re the only northern NFL team without a covered practice field.
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