The last time Cincinnati Bengals backup quarterback Ryan Finley faced the Washington Football Team, he went 20 for 26 for 150 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a preseason game.
This wasn’t that.
Finley came in early in the third quarter after Bengals star rookie quarterback Joe Burrow went down with what looked like a season-ending knee injury. After that, the Washington defense turned the game into a session of target practice on Finley and the Cincinnati offense, changing a 9-7 Bengals lead to a 20-9 Washington victory.
It was Washington’s third win of the season (3-7) and keeps them in the middle of the warped NFC East division battle, with their next game against one of the three teams Washington has already beaten.
Yes, everybody, it’s Dallas Week — the Cowboys are up next on the schedule Thursday.
As Washington owner Dan Snyder would say, “Happy Thanksgiving.”
The victory leaves Washington 2-3 in the winnable part of the schedule that coach Ron Rivera identified after their 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 11, with Dallas — possibly the most woeful opponent of them all — being the final game in that schedule feast.
After that, it’s Pittsburgh, Seattle, San Francisco and Carolina before they finish the season with Philadelphia — where they began 2020 with 27-17 win. The Eagles are 3-6-1 after their 22-17 loss Sunday to the Cleveland Browns.
“It feels good,” Rivera said about the win. “It feels really good, trust me. The guys have played good enough to win three of their last four and we just hadn’t done it. Today they scrapped and they clawed a little bit, just a little out of sync in that first half … but I was really pleased with the way these guys played.”
It was quarterback Alex Smith’s first win in his glorious comeback from his own leg injury two years ago, one that appeared to be career-ending at the time. And it was won in typical Alex Smith style — don’t do anything to lose. Take an early 7-0 lead and then control the game with the running attack.
Washington had 164 rushing yards.
The lead evaporated in the second quarter and Smith and Co. went into the half down 9-7.
But the game changed when Burrow went down and Finley came in for the now 2-7-1 Bengals.
Hammering the opposing quarterback has become a key to victory for Washington. The win over the Cowboys came against backup Andy Dalton, and, after taking a 22-3 lead, Washington knocked Dalton out with an illegal hit by linebacker Joe Bostic.
Rivera acknowledged their fortunes changed when Burrow went out. “Joe understands the game, he understands the game better than most people,” he said. “You bring in the backup quarterback who doesn’t get the snaps … you have to take advantage, and that’s what our guys did.”
Burrow had the Washington defense fearful and confused. The Cincinnati offense ran up 247 yards in the first half, nearly double what Smith and Washington had accumulated. But because the Bengals are one of those self-destructive teams — a missed early field goal and a goal line fumble by Burrow on a devastating Chase Young hit — Cincinnati only led 9-7.
No matter the score, it was clear that in an offensive battle, Burrow outmatched Smith, like most starting quarterbacks do.
But Smith can outgun a Ryan Finley.
Smith finished 17 for 25 for 166 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Finley wound up 3 for 10 for 30 yards and one interception, beaten down by four Washington defense sacks.
Burrow? How about 22 of 34 for 203 yards and one touchdown before going down.
The Bengals’ offense, already struggling with the loss of top running back Joe Mixon, couldn’t sustain the loss of Burrow as well.
He’s not just their best offensive weapon, he’s their top defender too: He kept the Washington offense off the field by eating up 18:58 of the first half, nearly doubling the time Smith and Co. had the ball.
“Once we got the lead, it was about first downs and grinding it out and not having a mistake,” Rivera said. “We ran the ball effectively and took what was given to us.”
The challenge, of course, is for Smith is to take more than what has been given to him.
“At the end of the day, getting ourselves into position the way we did and putting points on the board is important,” Rivera said.
But they only put up 20 points. Only the Los Angeles Chargers, in their 16-13 opening win over Cincinnati scored less against this 26th-ranked Bengals defense.
The last time Smith faced Dallas, he took what was given to him — 14 for 25 for 178 yards and one touchdown in a 20-17 win on Oct. 21 in the 2018 season.
The Cowboys are again perfectly capable of giving Smith what he needs to win.
Hear Thom Loverro Wednesday afternoons on 106.7 The Fan and Tuesdays and Thursdays on the Kevin Sheehan Show Podcast.
• Thom Loverro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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