Bengals avoid 0-12 start, beat Jets in Andy Dalton's return as starter

CINCINNATI --Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and first-year coach Zac Taylor hugged and traded a couple of pats to the chest before Dalton jogged onto the field for the final time on Sunday.

Later in the locker room, after the Bengals picked up their first win of the season with a 22-6 victory over the New York Jets, Dalton gave Taylor the game ball the equipment staff had shielded in the blissful moments after the final whistle.

Before Sunday, the Bengals were the only winless team in the NFL and at risk of becoming the third team in league history to go 0-16. They avoided that fate with the win in Week 13 and gave Taylor his first victory as a head coach.

After the game, Taylor said the feeling was indescribable.

"It's emotional," he said. "You go through it with all these guys. To finally get it, it does feel really good."

Before Sunday's game, the Bengals were mired in their worst start to a season in franchise history. Cincinnati lost its first 11 games, surpassing the 10-game losing streak at the start of the 1993 season. The Bengals also dropped 13 consecutive games dating to last season, which was also a team record.

Against the Jets, Cincinnati's offense was bolstered by the return of Dalton, who was reinserted into the starting lineup after spending three games on the bench. One day after the Bengals' 16-10 loss to theSteelersin Week 12, Taylor said he was going back to Dalton because he felt the ninth-year player out of TCU gave the Bengals the best chance to win.

Dalton delivered in a performance that yielded multiple personal records. He was 22-for-37 passing for 243 yards and one touchdown. His 17-yard scoring pass to Tyler Boyd in the first quarter was the 196th of his career and broke Ken Anderson's record for most career passing touchdowns by a Bengal. Dalton also surpassed Anderson's franchise mark for most career completions.

Dalton said he felt the team enjoyed its best week of practice all season. With the win over the Jets, the Bengals finally had something to show for all of their work dating back to the beginning of Taylor's first offseason.

"For it to finally pay off, get our first win of the season, get Zac his first win of his coaching career, all that kind of stuff, it's a big relief," Dalton said.

The loss was historically significant for the Jets (4-8), who had their three-game winning streak snapped. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Jets are the first team in NFL history with multiple losses in one season to teams who entered the matchup 0-7 or worse -- the Jets lost to theDolphinsin Week 9, giving Miami its first win of the season.

New York's offense struggled against a Cincinnati defense that ranked near the bottom of the league in several statistical categories, including total defense.

The Jets were held to 271 yards. Cincinnati sacked Sam Darnold four times, with defensive end Carlos Dunlap accounting for three of those. Darnold was 28-for-48 passing for 239 yards.

Even with the victory, the Bengals still have a one-game edge over the Giants (2-10) in the race for the worst record and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft.

But that was the last thing the coaches and players were concerned about Sunday. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, who has been out all year with an ankle injury, said the celebration in the locker room was one that hadn't been seen in a while.

"Our first couple of years, we were so used to winning," Green said. "When you go on a streak like this, you always take it for granted. But it felt good."

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