Bengals rookie quarterback Ryan Finley emerged from his first NFL start probably the way you thought he would. He couldn't keep pace with Lamar "Action" Jackson and the Ravens defense took advantage of his mistakes, but in the aftermath of Sunday's 49-13 loss to the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium his coach and teammates praised his poise and are looking for more.
"He seemed confident the entire game. He didn't put his head down," said wide receiver Tyler Boyd, his leading receiver with six catches for 62 yards. "He didn't get frustrated, and always went to the next play. I think he'll ramp up as the weeks go."
Finley wasn't as prolific as Carson Palmer or as victorious as Andy Dalton or AJ McCarron in their first NFL starts. But for what he faced on a sun-splashed day at The Paul in the last gasp of autumn, his 66.9 passer rating on 16 of 30 passing for 167 yards was interesting. He ran five times for 22 yards. He moved around back there to get sacked just twice despite trailing every snap he took against the heaviest blitz team in the league and he engineered nearly half of his 15 third-down conversions. Plus, he was asked to go for it on fourth-and-two, fourth-and-six and fourth-and-eight and the Bengals still turned the time of possession in its head. The NFL clock-leading Ravens usually hog it 36:11 like the Bengals did.
"He was as dialed-in and prepared as you could ask a young quarterback to be," Taylor said. "He really hasn't gotten reps for the last eight weeks. He runs the scout team. He really doesn't run our plays. He's had to manufacture the reps of the things that we do just like any backup quarterback in this league (would), so I'm really proud of the way he approached that. In fact, he did some good things against a really good defense in his first game and we just have to continue to build off that."
No, maybe Finley didn't answer The Big 2020 Question. (No, that one). But he didn't melt, either. And, as you could have guessed, he had the right, mature, veteran reaction
"I've already erased the score," Finley said. "I thought we had a really good plan in place. Our time of possession was good. We had some really good drives. The coaches had me, personally, ready. I felt good. I thought we had good juice, good energy. So, we have a lot to build on."
The game will be remembered for his pick-six and sack-strip for a touchdown, but Taylor liked everything about Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters' 89-yard interception return except the throw. Finley had a first down from the Ravens 15 when Baltimore, leading 21-3, looked like they were sending everybody in a zero blitz with the cornerbacks pressing the receivers. Finley checked off as the play clock hit one second with Taylor racing down the sideline looking for a timeout.
Instead, Finley tried to hit wide receiver Alex Erickson on an out route Peters knew was coming.
"They zero-blitzed us down in the red zone. It gets to a good check and Marcus Peters jumps the throw. It's a great play by him," Taylor said. "(Finley) may have left it inside a little bit, but he did the things that we asked him to do. He does have a bad play; he was trying to get us to a better play, and Baltimore won that snap.
"There was a second left on the play clock, so I didn't (call timeout) because I could sense he was going to get it off. So it was less to do with who he was checking to, and more to do with making sure we weren't going to take a delay (of game penalty)."
Finley was disgusted with the throw. And he did have time to throw Sunday on some passes and he threw wild that were surprising given his accuracy. The 53 percent passing was in stark contrast to his 73 percent of the preseason. But then the Ravens were coming all day without a care in the real world. The stat book said the Ravens hit him six times on top of the two sacks.
"Just a bad throw. Just can't leave it inside," Finley said. "We got our pressure look that we talked about all week. That was going to be one of our checks. Marcus Peters made a good play. He just jumped it. He gambles, and he gambled right. It was just a bad throw. I've got to leave it outside."
Taylor has seen it before. He was with Peters in Los Angeles last season. In fact, one Bengal thought Peters maybe remembered the call from his Rams days.
"I've seen a lot of quarterbacks fall into that trap against him," Taylor said. "And that's the second time I've seen him do it in three games, as a matter of fact, with the Ravens. Russell Wilson did it as well. It's tough, and we've just got to learn from it."
Center Trey Hopkins, the Bengals' highest-rated offensive lineman in cyberspace, drew praise from Finley for helping him with the protection calls. Hopkins wasn't so sure about that.
"He's giving me a little more credit than I deserve. He did some pretty good stuff out there in changing the protections," Hopkins said. "He was just as dialed it. It's not like it was a lot out there for me to change. I will throw the ball back to him. He did a great job out there today … He was never shaken by things. He's very poised, very kept-together. He kept confident and kept the same demeanor in the huddle, which is very important."
What Finley gave them Sunday was an ability to make something happen if the play broke down. That's one of the reasons they were 47 percent on third down, nearly ten points better than their season percentage coming in.
"I think Finley did a great job extending some plays and giving guys some opportunities," Taylor said, "and they fed off of that."
Finley: "I feel that's an important part of the game. It's something that I have to keep conscious in the back of my mind. Sometimes that's how you've got to extend drives, making those off-schedule throws. The more I can do that, the more it's going to help us get into a rhythm."
But, as usual, the Ravens always seem to turn turnovers into touchdowns. You can go all the way back to Ed Reed for that. The two defensive touchdowns give them five on the season. What the Bengals have to like is Finley responded to that pick-six with his first touchdown drive. After a three-and-out, he led three straight drives of 10 plays and picked up at least 57 yards in that first half the game was manageable.
View the best images from the Bengals' Week 10 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens from Paul Brown Stadium.
"There's a ton to work on," Finley said. "This team's not going to give up. And I'm sure as heck not going to let anybody give up. I'm ready to fight, and I'm ready to compete. I think our whole offense is ready to do that. We're going to bounce back."
Here's what Taylor wants to see from Finley in the next seven games.
"Don't make the same mistake twice," Taylor said.
Finley knows what that means. No pick-sixes or sack-strips.
"It's hard to win games when you give the defense touchdowns while on offense," Finley said. "So, I have to eliminate that."
RECENT BENGALS QBS STARTING DEBUTS
DATE QB SCORE C-A-YDS TD INT
11/10/19 Ryan Finley Ravens, 49-13 16-30 167 1 1
12/2/18 Jeff Driskel Broncos, 24-10 25-37 236 1 1
12/20/15 AJ McCarron @SF Bengals,24-14 15-21 192 1 0
9/11/11 Andy Dalton @CLE Bengals, 27-17 10-15 81 1 0