Who would have guessed third string quarterback Jeff Driskel would be the star of the Cincinnati Bengals’ preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
Driskel was largely responsible for the exhibition win and dazzled while throwing passes, making nice runs and juking defenders.
Did you see how he made two Buccaneers defenders run into each other and fall down? That’s pretty fun to watch.
Driskel finished with a team-high 34 yards rushing and the only rushing touchdown of the night and added 97 yards and 1 touchdown through the air, connecting on eight of his nine throws. His quarterback rating of 148.6 was quite remarkable, even for going up against second and third string guys.
Comparatively, AJ McCarron finished with a 79.7 passer rating and Andy Dalton with a 58.8 rating, largely due to his interception in the red zone.
Dalton was quite impressed with Driskel’s performance, which lasted for the entire second half of the game.
“I thought Jeff played great. I’m really happy for him,” Dalton said. “I haven’t seen a run like that from a quarterback in this league in forever. I don’t even think he realized what he did until after the fact.”
While we might not have expected the showing Driskel put on display, Dalton wasn’t surprised.
“I think everybody around here knows he has it in him,” Dalton said. “To make two guys run into each other and fall down, it’s pretty special.”
Second year wide receiver Alex Erickson was the target on four passes thrown by Driskel, three of which he caught for a team-leading 50 yards. Erickson also wasn’t surprised by Driskel’s great night in the preseason opener.
“We all knew it in here,” Erickson said of Driskel. “He’s one of the most athletic guys on the team the way he runs and can do everything. He’s a very gifted guy. It was fun to see him go out there and show everybody what he’s capable of.”
Driskel isn’t making a big deal about his performance, going as far as to say “it’s not too hard.”
“There are some reads in there where you’re reading the (defensive) end and if he takes the (running) back I run it,” Driskel said when asked if the run was by design. “It’s not too hard and it’s a good way to get some momentum going.”
Driskel—who was actually drafted by the Boston Red Socks in high school, but decided to pursue football instead—was on the Bengals’ roster all of last year after being waived by the San Francisco 49ers during final cuts in September 2016. The Bengals claimed him off waivers and activated him for just one game last year, a game in which a number of wide receivers were hurt. The idea was that he could play on special teams, if needed, and if more guys got injured in that game. He didn’t end up playing a snap, but it was a hint toward his versatility, athleticism and why the Bengals stashed him on the roster all year.
“Once you get into a game where the quarterback run is more part of the game, that’s something I can bring to the table,” Driskel said. “It’s not something I’m going to hang my hat on, but it’s a weapon that I have and I’m going to keep using it. Not every play, but it’s definitely something that I have, and something defenses have to prepare for.”
Driskel’s favorite throw of the night was his eight-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Josh Malone.
“The touchdown to Josh there—it was just a high ball,” Driskel said. “We always talk about when you get down there in the red zone you want high balls at their face mask and above. It was good timing. Josh did a good job of getting there behind their safeties.”
Driskel will have three more preseason games to showcase his abilities, and prove to the Bengals why they should once again keep three quarterbacks on the roster. That’s assuming McCarron remains on the team through the year; though, Driskel’s performance could encourage the Bengals to entertain offers from the seven teams reportedly interested in their backup’s services. For now, Driskel is just focusing on what he can control, which is going out there when he’s called upon, staying comfortable under pressure and performing well.
“It was really comfortable out there. When you get into the first preseason game, the coaches want to see you play fast and that’s what they’re preaching. Go out there and trust your technique, trust what you’ve been coached to do and let it rip,” Driskel said. “So I was comfortable all night. Something as simple as getting a screen for 15 or 20 yards will really get you going.”