Cincinnati Bengals: Allen focused on Ravens, not solidifying backup role for next season

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen (8) throws a pass for a touchdown to tight end Drew Sample during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen (8) throws a pass for a touchdown to tight end Drew Sample during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

Credit: Sam Craft

Credit: Sam Craft

Brandon Allen played the best game of his career last week to help the Cincinnati Bengals to their first road win in more than two years.

Now he has a chance to further add to his resume’ in the season finale before the Bengals head into the offseason with some decisions to make about their backup quarterback spot.

Cincinnati (4-10-1) hosts the Baltimore Ravens (10-5) on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium looking to end the season on a three-game win streak and prevent the Ravens from a playoff berth. Allen said he’s not necessarily viewing this game as a tryout for next season, though.

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“Obviously, I want to put my best foot forward every time I get on the field, so I’d love to have another good performance and get this team another win,” he said. “But it’s going to take the whole team to do that. It’s obviously a very good Ravens team that we’re going against, so it’s going to take our best effort, especially offensively. As far as coming back, obviously I would love to come back. I think this organization’s on the right track. I think Zac (Taylor) has it going in the right direction, and I’d love to be here to see that come full circle.”

The Bengals signed Allen on Aug. 1 as an emergency quarterback in case of a COVID-19 outbreak, and he spent the first 11 weeks of the season on the practice squad before moving ahead of backup Ryan Finley to replace injured Joe Burrow as the starter in Week 12. His 371 yards passing Sunday at Houston was by far his best performance in seven career starts and gave him his first win with the Bengals.

A sixth-round pick by the Jaguars in 2016, Allen had been with Taylor for two seasons with the L.A. Rams in 2017 and 2018, though he never played a snap, and he appeared in three games with Denver last year. The former Arkansas quarterback earned a win in his NFL debut against Cleveland, replacing Joe Flacco as the starter in Week 9 but Drew Lock took over in Week 12 and Allen was not tendered in restricted free agency this offseason.

Allen got a call from Taylor in mid-July while at the hospital with his wife, about an hour before their son was born, and the two eventually connected for a chat that led to his signing two weeks later.

“It was definitely different with COVID happening and all of that, and the quarantine and all that,” Allen said Wednesday, describing his arrival with Cincinnati for the first time in detail. “It started out just like any other offseason, just working out, throwing, staying in shape, being ready for when a team did call. Obviously, it went through OTAs and COVID and all that and it was all a Zoom type thing. Then I got a call from Zac, actually while I was in the hospital with my wife and she was giving birth to our son. So kind of interesting timing there. But I was obviously excited to get a call and know that I was going to have another chance.”

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Allen always prepared as though he was going to get a chance to play, even though he was limited in his workouts and usually standing off to the side at practices.

Finley’s struggles running the offense in the second half at Washington, after Burrow went down early in the third quarter, opened the door for Allen, but when his own knee injury caused him to miss the Monday Night Football game against Pittsburgh in Week 15, there was uncertainty if he would get another chance.

Finley stepped in and led the Bengals to a big win in prime time, upsetting the Steelers who were 14-point favorites, but Taylor went back to Allen the next game.

“I felt Brandon had made good progress,” Taylor said. “I know the Dallas game is what it was (three turnovers not caused by Allen). I thought he had done some things to execute the plan the way that we wanted it done. We expected him to do the same thing once he got healthy against Houston, and he did that for us. Those are just things that we expected and we’re glad he had a great game last week.”

Allen knows he is about to face a tough Ravens defense that caused Burrow problems in Week 5, a 27-3 loss on the road, so he’s going to need to play a great game to lead the offense to better success this time. It’s still unclear if wide receiver Tyler Boyd -- who kept the Ravens from the playoffs by catching a game-winning touchdown pass from Andy Dalton in the 2017 finale -- will be available while still in concussion protocol.

Asked if Allen has done enough to solidify the backup role behind Burrow next season, Taylor said no decisions have been made in that regard and there’s not necessarily anything Allen needs to do Sunday to make his future status clearer.

“I’m glad we’ve got Brandon,” Taylor said. “He’s done a great job for us particularly in these last two games he’s played. Those decisions are decisions we’ll make in the offseason. … We just operate with the (mindset) that he can do the things he can to help us win the game against Baltimore and then we worry about everything else afterward. Right now we’ve got four or five days to get ready for this game and that’s our whole focus.”

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