Andy Dalton brings a different perspective as he returns to his role as the Cincinnati Bengals’ starting quarterback.
The nine-year veteran was benched during the Week 9 bye and sat out the last three weeks while the Bengals gave rookie Ryan Finley a shot at getting the team’s first win. Finley struggled in his three starts, completing just 41-of-87 passing (47.1 percent) for 474 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions and three fumbles, and head coach Zac Taylor on Monday made the change back to Dalton.
Cincinnati (0-11) hosts the New York Jets (4-7) on Sunday, and Taylor believes Dalton gives the Bengals their best chance to win. The Jets have the No. 8 defense in yards allowed with former Browns coach Gregg Williams serving as defensive coordinator.
“It feels good,” Dalton said Wednesday in his first interview since the change was made. “Just as a player who has started basically every chance I’ve been able to without being hurt, it gives you a different perspective being on the other side. I’m glad to be back out playing. I feel I can help us win, so I’m excited to be going these last five games.”
Dalton said he wanted to be bitter at first when he was benched, but he was glad it happened over the bye week so he had a time to digest it and change his attitude. He had played 128 career games, always as a starter, and the only games he missed were because of injury.
The Bengals drafted him in the second round in 2011 to replace Carson Palmer, and Finley was the team’s highest drafted quarterback since then when Cincinnati traded up to take him early in the fourth round.
“I didn’t know why it was happening, but I knew God has a plan for me,” Dalton said. “He has a plan for my family and my life, and I had to trust and believe in that. This is just part of my story and part of something I’m going to be able to relate to people on a different level now than I probably could have before. Initially it was tough, but I wasn’t going to let the circumstance really get to me.”
“At the end of the day, that’s not who I want people to see me to be, and that’s not my character,” he added. “That’s not what God has called me to be.”
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Dalton remained engaged on the sidelines and continued practicing as the scout team quarterback, but didn’t think he would get another shot to start this season. It was a pleasant surprise Monday when Taylor told him.
He still doesn’t know where he stands with the organization for the future beyond these last five games, though. Dalton’s contract runs through the 2020 season, but when the Bengals initially benched him on the day of the NFL trade deadline, he expressed interest in trying to find another landing spot if he’s not going to be part of the team’s plans.
Right now, that’s not his concern, he said. Getting his job back simply allows him a chance to re-prove himself as a capable NFL starter.
“I feel like I’ve proven that throughout my career, and this is just another opportunity,” Dalton said. “To sit out for three weeks and then to come back in for these last five, my whole goal is to win and I want to win every single game we play.”
Dalton passed for 2,252 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions while starting the first eight games, and he is one touchdown pass away from becoming the Bengals’ career leader in that category. He is tied with Ken Anderson now with 197 touchdown passes.
Other veterans on the team are excited to have him back as the starter.
“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.
Wide receiver Alex Erickson said the team needs his veteran leadership and experience on the field. That was something that was missing with Finley, who hadn’t played an NFL snap before taking over as the starter three weeks ago.
“He’s won a ton of games in this league, so you can’t replace that experience,” Erickson said. “His leadership is very important. Even through the transition his leadership was important, and now that he’s back starting for us, it will carry over too.”
There also is an added comfort level the other players had already developed with Dalton over the years. Finley hadn’t run the first-team offense until the bye week.
“In general, having him here, having him around, having him in your ear, critiquing your routes and certain things and when you get a certain coverage, it’s always helpful,” Uzomah said of Dalton. “He understands defenses as a whole. He understands the big picture of everything, so that definitely helps having his leadership.”
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