Bengals reportedly going with Allen, not Finley, at QB, but coach won’t tip his hand

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor, right, watches during the second half of the team's NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor, right, watches during the second half of the team's NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Credit: AP

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor declined to name his starting quarterback Wednesday, despite multiple media reports the team is moving forward with former practice squad player Brandon Allen.

Second-year backup quarterback Ryan Finley replaced Joe Burrow after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third quarter of a 20-9 loss Sunday at Washington, but the 2019 fourth-round draft pick completed just 3 of 10 passes for 30 yards, and the offense gained only 17 yards on 18 plays under his guidance.

Now, the Bengals are trying to avoid tipping their hand on the new starter as they prepare to host the New York Giants (3-7) on Sunday in their first full game this season without Burrow. Allen would be getting his first reps with the first-team offense since signing as a free agent Aug. 1 as insurance in case of a COVID-19 outbreak. He spent the first 10 games on the practice squad.

“We feel like we’ve got two guys that know the system very well and can lead us to victory,” Taylor said Wednesday.

Taylor said he “maybe” has decided who will start but isn’t ready to name one.

“(It’s based on) who gives us the best chance to win,” he said. “We always do what’s best for the team, and we’re always going to do what puts us in the best position to win games.”

Giants coach Joe Judge said Wednesday they are preparing for both Allen and Finley, and regardless of who the quarterback is, the Bengals’ elite wide receivers make them a challenging offense to face.

The Bengals usually make their starting quarterback available in a video news conference on Wednesdays but did not this week. Running back Giovani Bernard, the lone offensive player to speak to local media, avoided answering even general questions about Allen.

Finley got three games of starting experience last year when the Bengals decided to bench Andy Dalton halfway through the season to see what they had in the former N.C. State quarterback. The experiment ended after three losses, and Dalton returned to the lineup to go 2-3 down the stretch. Knowing that Burrow was going to be the new franchise quarterback, the Bengals released Dalton in April and he’s now leading the Cowboys with Dak Prescott out for the season.

Taylor said Monday that Cincinnati would be looking for a third quarterback now because of COVID-19 creating need for an extra option but NFL health and safety protocols mean that can’t be done as quickly as it would have in the past.

For now, the job appears to be Allen’s to lose. Originally a sixth-round draft pick by the Jaguars in 2016, Allen gained his only NFL experience last year in three starts with Denver when he went 1-2 while completing 39 of 84 passes (46.4 percent) for 515 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions.

Since joining the Bengals, he’s mostly just watched practices and stayed afterward to get throws in, but he’s at least familiar with the offense from his time with Taylor while both were with the L.A. Rams in 2017 and 2018. Allen was a third-string quarterback who was never active on gamedays his first season there, while Taylor was an assistant wide receivers coach, and he was on the practice squad in 2018 when Taylor became quarterbacks coach.

“It’s hard to get two guys reps; it’s really hard to get three guys reps,” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said Monday. “A part of the reason we signed Brandon is he’s got some familiarity with the system. He played in games in Denver last year for a three-game stretch and won one of them. He’s been around for a little bit and has a good way about him. He really was kind of our COVID quarterback in a sense, kind of a guy we needed to have in the building and keep bringing along. He’s done a really nice job with everything he’s been asked to do.

“…I really like Brandon and he brings a lot to the table just as far as his experience and his leadership and his personality. He’s been good for our quarterback room certainly.”

Finley was thrown into a difficult situation Sunday at Washington but spoke after the game as though he expected to remain the starter, noting how a full week of preparation would benefit him as it’s been a long time since he got significant reps. He had been running the scout team offense against the first-team defense in practices and would remain in that role as Allen’s backup.

Callahan acknowledged the “tough spot” Finley was in coming off the bench cold. The Bengals, to that point, had focused every first-team rep on Burrow because of the lack of an offseason and preseason.


Giants at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7