CINCINNATI (AP) — The Jets are seeing growth in their young quarterback as they try for a fourth straight win. The Bengals have dumped their rookie and returned to Andy Dalton in hopes of getting that elusive first one as the season slips away.
Two teams that had been stuck on zero early in the season are headed in different directions as November winds down. The quarterbacks will have a lot to do with how the final month plays out, starting Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
New York (4-7) has won three in a row, with second-year quarterback Sam Darnold showing signs that he’s finally settling in. He’s put together the best stretch of his young career, including an impressive showing during a 34-3 drubbing of the Raiders last Sunday.
For the Jets, there’s some long-term hope.
“You continue to learn the offense and you continue to feel really good about the plays that we are running, and we start to get in a really good rhythm,” said Darnold, whose 127.8 passer rating against the Raiders was a season high. “And I think we have felt that the last few weeks and we are only going to continue to get better.”
Things haven’t improved at all for the Bengals (0-11), off to the worst start in franchise history. They have their longest in-season losing streak as well. They benched Dalton in favor of rookie Ryan Finley after the eighth loss, deciding they needed to find out how the fourth-round pick fits in their long-term plans.
Coach Zac Taylor ended the experiment this week and went back to his 11th-year veteran in hopes of avoiding the ignominy of an 0-16 season. For Dalton, it’s a chance to show he can still be a starting quarterback somewhere next year.
“I feel like I’ve proven that throughout my career, and this is just another opportunity,” Dalton said.
The Jets went from one of the NFL’s most inept offenses earlier in the season to one of its most efficient. At the midpoint, New York was last in the league in total offense (209.6 yards per game) and 31st in points per game with 11.1. In the four games since, the Jets have averaged 354 yards per game and are fourth in the league with 30 points per game. New York has scored 34 points in three straight games, all victories. It also marks the first time the Jets have scored at least 30 three games in a row since 2008. Darnold’s improved play — eight TDs, two INTs — during that span, and a much-improved offensive line have been key factors.
“We’re doing these little things right that it was just one or two guys every once in a while in a series that would kind of just throw the series off, and the next thing you know, it's third-and-long and you're punting,” coach Adam Gase said. “Where I think now, we're sustaining the drives, we're finding out a way to get in the end zone, we're getting points in some capacity.”
The Jets are allowing an NFL-low 78.1 yards rushing per game and just 2.99 yards per carry. New York held Oakland to 68, including a season-low 34 for rookie Josh Jacobs. Only one player has rushed for 100 yards against the Jets this season: Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott, who had 105 in Week 6. The Bengals are near the bottom of the league in rushing, averaging 81 yards per game.
“It’s simple,” safety Jamal Adams said. “It's not rocket science, nothing like that. We're just flying around the ball.”
ANY WAY THEY CAN
New York ranks second in the league with 37 points scored by its defense and special teams. That includes three interceptions returned for touchdowns, two fumbles recovered for scores and two safeties. The 37 points are tied with the 2012 Jets for the club’s most non-offense scores in a season. The 2001 and ’08 squads had the most with 42 points.
READY TO RETURN
Dalton spent the last three weeks running the scout team in practice, emulating the opponent’s offense. He expects to be sharp in his return, which presents a chance for him to set some club records. His 197 touchdown passes tie Ken Anderson for the team mark, and he’s seven completions shy of Anderson’s career record.
“I was taking all the scout team reps and stuff, so obviously they weren't our plays, but I've still been playing football, so I don't feel like there's going to be any rust,” Dalton said.
STREAKS AT STAKE
In addition to the club record of 11 straight losses in a season, the Bengals have dropped 13 in a row from the end of last year, also a team record. They’ve lost 18 of 19 overall, the worst such stretch in their history.
AP Pro Football Writer Dennis Waszak Jr. contributed to this report.