CINCINNATI (AP) — Andy Dalton is out for the rest of the season with an injured thumb on his passing hand, another significant blow to a Bengals team that has fallen apart in the past month.
Dalton reached for a fumbled ball and had someone land on his right hand during a 35-20 rout by the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Cincinnati’s fifth loss in its past six games.
Just like that, a season that started with so much promise has turned into a nosedive .
Cincinnati (5-6) is without its quarterback or much hope that things will get much better down the stretch. The Bengals put Dalton on injured reserve after he had more tests and medical opinions Monday about the best way to get the thumb healed.
Coach Marvin Lewis said Dalton’s thumb is expected to be healed before the start of offseason workouts.
It’s the same thumb that Dalton broke while making a tackle on an interception return against the Steelers in 2015. He missed the last three regular-season games and an 18-16 loss to the Steelers in a first-round playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Jeff Driskel will start for the Bengals the rest of the way, getting his first chance to lead the team in his third NFL season. The Bengals claimed quarterback Tom Savage off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers as a backup on Monday.
“The more you get out there and the more you play well, the more confidence you are going to get in yourself and the people around you,” Driskel said Monday.
Dalton completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,566 yards with 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a passer rating of 89.6, the third-highest of his eight-year career.
Even with Dalton, the Bengals weren’t doing much except losing.
After a 4-1 start that boosted them atop the AFC North, the Bengals have lost five of six and fallen to third place. It’s their worst stretch since 2016, when they went 1-5-1 over the middle of the schedule and finished 6-9-1, ending their streak of five straight playoff appearances.
After Dalton got hurt on Sunday, Driskel came in and threw his first career touchdown pass and ran for another as the Browns went conservative with a big lead. Cleveland threw the ball only four times in the second half and played softer on defense. Driskel was 17 of 29 for 155 yards.
Coordinator Bill Lazor said Monday that Driskel has shown his ability to lead the offense in his limited opportunities.
“I think guys see it, and that’s the important part,” Lazor said. “You can’t talk them into feeling good about somebody; they’ve got to earn it. And he’s earned it every day in practice and in the preseason games.”
With Driskel running the offense, the Bengals had five false-start penalties — each by a different player — and one more for an illegal shift in the fourth quarter. Driskel thinks that working with the starting offense in practice this week will fix the problems.
“The more time you are able to get in and out of the huddle with those guys, hear the cadence, say the cadence, it’s just beneficial,” he said. “I don’t think it helps coming off the bench.”
With five games left and Dalton hurt, the Bengals are facing a big challenge.
“They’ve got to do it,” Lewis said. “They’ve got to dig out.”
Cornerback Tony McRae suffered a concussion in the third quarter. The medical staff strapped him to a backboard and wheeled him off the field, concerned he might have a spinal injury. Lewis said Monday that McRae had a concussion but no spinal injury.
HUE’S GAME BALL
Lewis didn’t have anything to say about Browns safety Damarious Randall handing the ball to Hue Jackson after he intercepted one of Dalton’s passes on Sunday.
“I don’t want to comment on somebody else’s player,” Lewis said.