Everybody will find out about Driskel on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium when he makes his first career start against the Denver Broncos (5-6), a matchup of teams headed in opposite directions as the final month of the season approaches.
The third-year veteran is filling in the rest of the way after Andy Dalton injured the thumb on his passing hand.
The reeling Bengals (5-6) have lost five of six because of significant injuries and breakdowns on offense, defense and special teams. They got steamrolled at home by the lowly Browns last Sunday, with Dalton hurting his thumb while trying to recover a fumble.
It’s up to the backup quarterback to keep the Bengals’ slim hopes alive.
“Jeff is the most athletic guy on our team,” said Green, who expects to play Sunday after missing three games with a toe injury. “He’s a guy who can play any position, has a strong arm, very smart. My job is to go out there and make his job easy.”
Although the teams have identical records, they’re on totally different trajectories .
The Broncos are coming off a 23-22 win over the Chargers in Los Angeles and a 24-17 home victory over the AFC North-leading Steelers . They seemed all but eliminated after a 3-6 start, but have been given a second — and final — chance to salvage their season.
A win on Sunday is mandatory for a team that’s starting to feel it can still accomplish big things.
“You kind of want guys to walk with their chest out, right?” Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “But at the same time, you’ve got to have perspective. There’s a difference between confidence and arrogance.”
Some things to watch on Sunday:
Case Keenum was picked off 11 times in the first eight games but hasn’t thrown an interception in the past three, a thread in the Broncos’ revival. Keenum is getting more comfortable, and it’s rubbing off on the rest of the offense. He faces the NFL’s worst defense on Sunday. Baker Mayfield threw for four touchdowns without an interception in Cleveland’s 35-20 win last week at Paul Brown Stadium. Keenum’s goal is to keep up the trend.
“I’m throwing it to our guys, not throwing it to the other team,” Keenum said. “Who knew?”
Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay ranks second among NFL rookies with 780 yards rushing. Clinton Portis set the club record for yards rushing by a rookie with 1,508 in 2002. Lindsay has 967 yards from scrimmage, leaving him on the verge of becoming the eighth Broncos rookie with 1,000 in a season and the first since Knowshon Moreno had 1,160 in 2009.
After Dalton left the game last Sunday with his thumb injury, Driskel threw his first NFL touchdown pass and ran for another score. He had problems getting the offense on the same page — five false-start penalties in the fourth quarter alone.
Some rust was expected with a quarterback who hadn’t worked with the starting offense all season. The biggest challenge will be staying calm enough to keep everything under control. Driskel’s had a week to think about his first NFL start, so the Bengals expect some nerves early.
“If it was me, I’d be more nervous if I knew all week,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “I’d have more butterflies.”
The Bengals’ offense struggled during the three games Green missed. His return — even if he’s not 100 percent — would impact the game significantly. The Bengals are a far more dangerous offense when Green is lining up.
“Absolutely they are,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “He’s no different than Antonio Brown. You have to take him out of the game, and if not he can beat you.”
Only one team — the Broncos — have faced a tougher schedule so far than the Bengals, based on opponents’ winning percentage. The Broncos’ opponents are 69-50-1 for a .579 winning percentage. The Bengals’ opponents are 67-52-2 for a .562 winning percentage.
The Broncos just became the first team since the winless 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers to face three consecutive opponents riding at least a five-game winning streak.
After Houston escaped Denver with its sixth straight win after Brandon McManus’ 51-yard field goal sailed wide right, the Broncos bounced back to end six-game winning streaks by the Chargers and Steelers.
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Englewood, Colorado, contributed to this report.
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