Quarterback Brandon Allen didn't practice again Saturday morning for the third straight day and Ryan Finley got the call to start against the Steelers Monday night (8:15-ESPN and Cincinnati's Channel 5) at Paul Brown Stadium.
Head coach Zac Taylor said after Saturday's practice that Allen's knee injury isn't long-term and that he is day-to-day, making him a possibility to start the next game in Houston.
It is Finley's fourth NFL start following last year's 0-3 run as a rookie that included his last one, a 16-10 PBS loss to these Steelers quarterbacked by a pair of backups in Duck Hodges and Mason Rudolph on Nov. 24, 2019.
Finley, a 2019 fourth-rounder, has come off the bench twice this season following second-half injuries to Allen and Joe Burrow. He's been sacked seven times while completing 10 of 19 passes that includes two interceptions.
He becomes the seventh different Bengals starting quarterback to oppose Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: Burrow, Jeff Driskel, Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Carson Palmer and Ryan Fitzpatrick. It would also be the first time since 2002 the Bengals started three different quarterbacks in the same season.
Taylor also ruled out Logan Wilson (ankle), so look for fellow rookie linebacker Markus Bailey to get more snaps. Bailey, a seventh-rounder, has played in seven straight games primarily on special teams and has taken just 16 snaps at backer.
Taylor thinks they'll have safety Brandon Wilson, their top special teams player, after he missed last week's game against Dallas with a hamstring issue.
Running back Joe Mixon (foot) surfaced at Saturday's practice, but he's still on injured reserve. Taylor won't rule him out for the final two games, but he did say they're relying on rest to heal it and not surgery.
BOYD EYES 1,000: Here's the thing about slot wide receiver Tyler Boyd's run for a third straight 1,000-yard season. In those 43 games, he's played 22 of them with a rookie or back-up quarterback during a stretch that saw massive change in the offensive system between 2018 and 2019.
Two of the backups, Driskel and Finley, were making their first NFL starts. The other one, Brandon Allen, made his fourth NFL start. Finley got the work in practice this week as Kevin Hogan, soon to be activated from the practice squad, looms with one NFL start.
"He looked good. He plays with more confidence now than he did his first year," Boyd said of Finley before Friday's practice. "He takes control of the huddle. Seems like he's ready to go. Like this is his year."
Boyd, by the way, knows exactly how many yards he needs in the final three games for 1,000.
"At this point, now that I know I only need 160 yards, of course I think about it. It would make me feel good as a player to achieve that. Because I want to continue to show everybody what I'm capable of, that I'm not a one-hit wonder, that I'm a true receiver in this league," Boyd said this week. "Before coming into this year, I just wanted to go play with a chip on my shoulder like I always do because in spite of getting 1,000 yards back to back, or three times in a row, I still don't feel I'm getting the respect that I deserve."
He'd become only the fourth Bengal to go for three straight grand, joining Carl Pickens, Chad Johnson and A.J. Green and if you told him he's got a shot at being the leading receiver (rookie Tee Higgins has 778 yards) on a team with a healthy Green, he'd probably tell you were nuts. But playing in a new system with new quarterbacks after a year-and-a-half of injuries has been tough on Green, looking at a career-low in yards including seasons that were halted by injury.
With Green working on a one-year deal at age 32, there is as much speculation around his future as there is defense. Not for Boyd. He'd like to see Green back for more.
"In my eyes, he's a legend here. He's the best receiver in all-time Bengals history," Boyd said. "I just believe it's up to his decision, up to what he wants to do. I know the coaches love him and they want him to stay around. But it's all up to him.
"It'll feel weird not seeing him in a Bengals uniform anymore because that was the guy who brought me under his wing and led me. And that was the guy I became the closest friends with. It's going to be tough. But at the end of the day I hope whatever decision he make is the best for him and his family. But I'm going to feel a way, especially if he decides not to come here and extend his career somewhere else. I'd rather him just stay here with me, man, and finish out strong till whenever you're ready to retire."
RUN EMPHASIS: Since Burrow went down in his ninth NFL start, the Bengals have had a hard time opening up their talent at receivers with the run game. They tried to get it back on track last week with a back-by-committee approach against the Cowboys' last-ranked run defense and while the numbers weren't good enough, they were better.
Really, the best they've run it in the second half of the season came in Pittsburgh on Nov. 15 when their three backs combined for 100 yards. Burrow was the quarterback, but with teams now daring the Bengals to pass without him it has become even more urgent.
"Pretty much their same game plan, probably a little different," Boyd said of what he expects from the Steeler match-up zones designed to choke the middle of the field. "If we don't' have answers (for) those guys in our run game it is going to be tough for us in the pass game regardless.
"You have to be able to run the ball so you can create those opportunities for use receivers to hit long shots or hit them with the play action and things like that. If the run isn't really opening up for us, it's tough on us to figure out how we are going to exploit those guys in the air. Once we maintain our run game it is going to be back to normal in my eyes."
The Steelers have been decimated at linebacker with Bud Dupree (knee) out for the year and Vince Williams out for this one on the COVID list. But they're still ranked sixth against the run and second against the pass.