Players React: Can't Blame Dalton, But Business Is Business

Quarterbacks Ryan Finley (left) and Andy Dalton (middle) stand for the playing of the national anthem before the 2019 home opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
Andy Dalton (14) and backup Ryan Finley before a game.

Tyler Boyd, Andy Dalton's most reliable target these days as the wait for A.J. Green continues, had no idea when he showed up for work Tuesday that Dalton wouldn't be his starting quarterback when they come back from the bye and the Nov. 10 game against the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium.

But after they went into the weight room and kibitzed during workouts like they always do, they went into their position meetings and that's when head coach Zac Taylor went door-to-door to tell his team that rookie Ryan Finley got the nod over Dalton, their starter for the past nine seasons and last five play-off appearances.

Boyd though that may happen at some point. But not this soon.

"Nothing seems to be going right this season. It's not Andy's fault," Boyd said. "There are plays he wishes he had back out there and every guy in this locker room feels the same way. The quarterback is just the most pressured position. I praise Andy for doing what he's done here. He's got great numbers. A Pro Bowler. He's a No. 1 quarterback in my eyes."

But Boyd said he also thinks Finley has the skill set to be a starter and like safety and defensive captain Shawn Williams said, "It's difficult because of all the good things he's done since he started. You can't be insensitive to that. But at the same time we still have a job to do and we still have to fully support Ryan and handle it business-wise and go about it the right way."

This is the profession we have chosen, the players said Tuesday. The business of the NFL is business.

"You never like to see guys' jobs get tempered or played with because at the end of the day you've got family," said left end Carlos Dunlap, one of five players left from when Dalton wasn't the quarterback. "But I think it will probably send a message, shock some things, shake some people up or wake some people up and hopefully put that sense of urgency they have upstairs in the locker room so we can go get that first win."

That's pretty much how right end Sam Hubbard saw it, too. Hubbard was a 16-year-old at Moeller High School when Dalton arrived in 2011 and made Carson Palmer his team with five straight post-season appearances, three Pro Bowls and two AFC North titles.

"Andy's been our quarterback the last nine years. If they're willing to do that, they're willing to do anything," Hubbard said. "No one's job is safe. You have to perform. That would be (the message). You never know what they're thinking upstairs. I trust them to put us in position to win games. I'll be playing defensive end here trying to do my job."

There's no question that Dalton has struggled. His team has failed to score 20 points in six of the eight games. His team has scored touchdowns on only one-third of their red-zone trips. His passer rating is a career low 79.2.

But his teammates also know there are things out of his control. The running game is ranked last, he's the NFL's second-most sacked quarterback and without his two fastest receivers, Green and John Ross, they have the fourth fewest points in the NFL and have the sixth fewest yards per pass at 6.7.

"I just hope that's what everyone says," said tight end C.J. Uzomah. "When I'm watching film, it's easy to point the finger at the person who gets the ball every single play. I ran the wrong play on two plays. It wasn't detrimental to that play completely, but I still ran the wrong play two plays and you guys don't really notice. It didn't affect the play that much. I didn't get the ball and my block wasn't the pivotal block. But that said, that's the reason so much light gets brought to him because he's the playmaker, the quarterback and leader of the team."

They weren't buying the wake-up call thing. "I don't know if it's a wake-up call, but you should never be comfortable in this business that we're in," Williams said. But they were buying that everyone shares in the blame.

"I mean, no, you can't sit here and say he was a problem for why we're losing," Dunlap said. "We're facing a lot of adversity, we're not making enough plays to win the game, it's not like he's out there plainly costing us the game every game. There's a lot of people who have taken their share in not making enough plays for us to win, and I have a big hand in that as well, and then I had my first missed game in seven years as well. Of course there's going to be a lot of questions, a lot of rumors, and people are going to try to break this locker room apart and we're not paying no mind to that."

Dunlap was a rookie when Palmer played his last Bengals game on the second day of 2011 and he saw the rookie Dalton lead the Bengals to the Wild Card Game 370 days later. So he knows about transitions.

"Andy is our franchise quarterback but the starting quarterback for the Bengals this next game is Ryan Finley," Dunlap said. "Andy will be behind him. We support Andy and we support Ryan. He's our quarterback."

He's also seen two major moves in the last ten months. A new head coach and new starting quarterback.

"They started the season off with a change, go for the head man," Dunlap said. "We've got a new head coach and a whole new staff and the new staff wants their guys in there and they're implementing their guys and implementing their system and changing the culture around here. This is a new day, it's not just a saying or a phrase for us. This is what it is. They want to exhaust every opportunity there is to win long-term football, not just make players happy."

Uzomah has no doubts Dalton remains a captain and leader.

"Knowing the personality he has," Uzomah said. "He's still a very big part of this team and a big leader on this team and someone everyone can lean on. I don't see him backing down from the leadership role."

Boyd doesn't either.

"I give all the credit to him because he helped me where I'm at now," Boyd said. "I'm very strong on Andy's game. He's a great leader. He does everything right. This season everything is going wrong and it kind of looks like it's his fault and it's not."

This is the kind of veteran Taylor and Finley have to win over. Uzomah says he's intrigued with what Finley shows. Williams says he hopes the rookie from North Carolina State can provide a jolt in what he calls the "re-set." At 0-8, Boyd is ready to be won.

"He has the skill set to play. I think he deserves to be a starter," Boyd said of Finley. "He has to find a way to learn how to lead and I think he can do that because he's been a quarterback his whole life. As he matures he'll understand that and he'll take that role. He has to trust them. 'We've got your back. We don't care how old you are or the experience. Just help us get in the end zone. You're the boss, you're in control.'"

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