Andy Dalton got his job back, and the Cincinnati Bengals found out he really was their best chance to win.
The ninth-year veteran returned to his place as the team’s starting quarterback and led the Bengals to a 22-6 win over the New York Jets on Sunday in front of an announced crowd of 39,804 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.
Their first victory under coach Zac Taylor ended a 13-game losing streak dating back to last season and came in front of the team’s lowest home crowd since 1995, when 34,568 fans attended a Christmas Eve game at Cinergy Field. Sam Hubbard and Carlos Dunlap gave Taylor a Gatorade bath to celebrate.
Taylor had benched Dalton during the Week 9 bye, but his three-game experiment with rookie Ryan Finley failed, and Dalton returned to revive an otherwise dormant pass offense. Dalton completed 22 of 37 passes for 243 yards and one touchdown Sunday, and in the process became the Bengals’ all-time leader in pass completions and passing touchdowns.
The Cincinnati defense backed him up to make sure it remained a memorable return, building on its recent progress and holding the opponent under 17 points for a third straight week. They shut the Jets out in the second half and sacked Sam Darnold four times, as he finished with 234 yards on 28-of-48 passing.
Dalton had said Wednesday he was looking to make the most of the opportunity to re-prove himself, and it didn’t take long to do that Sunday.
His 17-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd with 1:12 left in the first quarter gave Cincinnati (1-11) a 7-3 lead it wouldn’t lose and pushed him ahead of Ken Anderson for sole ownership of the franchise touchdown pass record at 198. His eighth completion of the day moved him ahead of Anderson on the career list at 2,260 pass completions.
Dalton nearly had two more touchdowns in the first half. C.J. Uzomah dropped a wide-open pass on third down, causing the Bengals to settle for a 24-yard field goal from Randy Bullock to extend their lead to 10-3 with 9:13 left in the second quarter.
Joe Mixon then added a five-yard touchdown run with 1:46 left in the second quarter after Tyler Eifert dropped a pass in the end zone on first down, but Jets kicker Sam Ficken made a 39-yard field goal with four seconds left in the half to cut the lead to 17-6. Those would be New York’s final points, as they dropped to 4-8.
Cincinnati’s offense took its foot off the gas in the second half as both defenses took over, but Jets left tackle Kelvin Beachum was called for a hold in the end zone, resulting in a safety with 5:46 left in the third quarter, and the Bengals drove down for a 47-yard field goal to add to their lead. Bullock had missed a 48-yarder earlier in the quarter.
The Bengals’ defense tightened up to preserve the second-half shut out. New York had opened the game with three third-down conversions before Cincinnati got a stop just outside the red zone to hold them to a field goal.
The Bengals forced a three-and-out the next two series with Dunlap and Hubbard each coming up with third-down sacks on Darnold to stall the drives, and Darnold just never got into enough of a rhythm to lead a comeback.
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