The last time Jeff Driskel was preparing for a start was his senior season with Louisiana State in 2015 — a 47-28 win over Arkansas State in the New Orleans Bowl.
The third-year Cincinnati Bengals backup quarterback is now preparing for his first NFL start Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
Cincinnati placed Andy Dalton on injured reserve Monday and acquired Tom Savage off waivers from San Francisco. Driskel replaced Dalton after the starter suffered a thumb injury trying to recover a botched snap on the first series of the second half Sunday in a 35-20 loss to the Browns, and even before it was known how severe Dalton's injury was, the 25-year-old backup was mentally preparing to step up this week.
Dalton completed 226 of 365 passes for 2,566 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season.
“You have to focus every week, know the game plan like you’re going to play because you never know when your number is going to be called,” Driskel said prior to the team announcing Dalton was going on IR. “My routine is going to stay the same and come Sunday, I’ll be ready to go regardless of who is in there.”
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Driskel led the Bengals on two scoring drives in the second half to cut a 28-point deficit in half, and he had Cincinnati in position to close the gap even further in the fourth quarter before a series of penalties took a toll. There were five false starts called on five different players, and an illegal shift negated a 46-yard pass to Tyler Boyd on the final drive.
Aside from those mistakes, which could be traced back to linemen and quarterback alike, Lewis said he was pleased with Driskel’s performance. Driskel completed 17 of 29 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown and also had one rushing touchdown.
“For the most part (I was pleased), but there were some things that I’m sure he would say having back he would like to do a little differently, some of his progressions and so forth,” Lewis said. “We have a couple issues with play calling, we had some cadence issues that led to the false starts and so forth and his ability to be on the same page with that. So, there are some things that obviously when you don’t get to work with the first offense a lot, it’s tough to come in to play that much. He had 30-some snaps in the game, and that’s different than normal.”
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Driskel was confident that a full week of preparation with the first team could have solved those issues.
“Obviously there’s no excuse for the penalties on my end or anybody else’s end, but that’s something we’ll get cleaned up with them hearing my cadence, hearing me in the huddle, things of that nature, but it’s something we have to be better at and we’re aware of that,” Driskel said.
“I think I can play at this level and give our team a chance to win,” he added. “I’ve known that all along. It’s just a matter of stacking that up and doing it week in and week out.”
His teammates seem to have confidence in him as well, and some of that has to do with how well Driskel carries himself in practice and around the locker room.
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Wide receiver John Ross said Driskel never looked like he wasn’t ready to play Sunday.
“He’s got confidence,” Ross said. “You could just tell in practice before he knew Andy was going down. Jeff comes in and does the same thing every week. He’s consistent and he works hard all the time. He never complains about anything, and he knows how to get the ball to everyone, just as well as Andy does, and he never flinches.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said he only expects Driskel to get better with more practice. This is his first real opportunity at this level, after being third-string behind AJ McCarron the past two years.
“I was impressed with Jeff, and we’ve been impressed with him every time he’s gone in the game,” Lazor said. “He’s poised. … He knows where to go with the ball, he knows how to get the ball out of his hand on time. He can stay alive if there is pressure there. He is just going to continue to get better.”
Broncos at Bengals, 1 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7