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Bengals’ youngsters finally got their shot vs. Ravens; should Ryan Finley be next?

Brandon Wilson made noise with his kickoff score, but he was among several youngsters who got starting nods. Is it time for Ryan Finley to get in-game reps?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
Brandon Wilson
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Bengals fans, we finally got our way. For what is worth, the youth movement has finally arrived in Cincinnati. And, with a single exception, the results could not have been any worse.

In all fairness, it is unlikely that anyone on this current roster could have done much to stop the freight train that has become Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson had 79 yards rushing and a touchdown on his first five carries.

With rookie linebacker Germaine Pratt and little-used safety Brandon Wilson, a third-year pro out of Houston, on the field, Jackson peeled off a 36-yard run on the Ravens’ second play of the game. Four plays later, he added a 21-yard scamper for a touchdown that tied the score at 7-7.

And, although Pratt went into halftime tied for the team lead in tackles with five, he didn’t have any better luck in coverage than any of the Bengals’ other linebackers. Baltimore tight end Mark Andrews, the Ravens’ leading receiver on the season, ran roughshod over the Bengals with five first-half receptions for 90 yards. Pratt finished with six total tackles. And the Bengals gave up 269 yards on the ground. And over 500 yards of total offense.

But it was not all bad news. Wilson opened the game with an exciting 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the game’s opening play. It was the Bengals’ first touchdown on a kickoff return since 2009, a draught of 157 games. And Wilson was not finished there.

With the clock ticking down under two minutes remaining in the first half and the Ravens driving, Wilson forced a fumble by Andrews that Nick Vigil recovered and returned to the Baltimore 39. The Bengals turned that into a field goal and went into halftime trailing 17-10. Wilson’s final stat line: Four total tackles, including three solos.

Also getting the start was rookie tight end Drew Sample, the Bengals’ second-round selection out of Washington. Sample was in mostly to block, but turned his only target into a reception that lost a yard.

Even rookie running back Trayveon Williams, a sixth-round selection from Texas A&M, got in on the action late in the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately, the one rookie who did not get an opportunity on Sunday was backup quarterback Ryan Finley, a fourth-round selection out of North Carolina State. And, after yet another sluggish performance by starter Andy Dalton, the question seems to be when, not if, Finley will get his shot.

Dalton more than proved his detractors right against the Ravens. Dalton missed open receivers all over the field. After yet another slow start, Dalton heated up somewhat in the second quarter before throwing an interception in the red zone that cost the Bengals precious points just before the two-minute warning. He tried to force a ball to Tyler Boyd into double and triple coverage.

Dalton completed 10 of 18 passes for 127 yards and that interception. His red-zone woes continued, though, when he drove the Bengals to a first down at Baltimore’s 6-yard-line with 58 seconds left in the half, but had to settle for another field goal.

In his first possession of the second half, Dalton moved the Bengals to a first down at midfield before misfires on consecutive passes forced a punt. On the second possession, Dalton missed on two of three passes. Baltimore took over after the punt and launched an 83-yard, 18-play drive that took 9:43 off the clock before another field goal put the game out of reach.

The Bengals only had three drives in the second half, and scored on their last one. But, once again it was missed opportunities in the first half that cost Cincinnati a chance at its first win of the season.

Dalton wound up completing 21 of 39 passes for 235 yards. Admittedly, it would have been hard to bench him in this game, but it should make it easier for Zac Taylor to turn to Finley if Dalton has another bad outing and the game gets away from Cincinnati.

And Dalton does deserve a chance to see what he can do in Taylor’s offense with a healthy A.J. Green, which hopefully will come this week vs. the Jaguars.

Despite all of the struggles, Wilson very nearly gave the Bengals one final shot to pull victory from the jaws of defeat when he apparently recovered an onsides kick with 1:28 left to play. Unfortunately, the ball did not travel the requisite 10 yards before Wilson grabbed it, so the ball went over to the Ravens. Baltimore ran the clock out, and another loss was in the books.