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Mistakes not only thing to look for in evaluating Bengals QB Ryan Finley

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Finley throws first career NFL TD pass (0:21)

Ryan Finley finds Tyler Eifert, who is dragged out of the end zone, but not before he makes the six-yard touchdown catch. (0:21)

CINCINNATI -- Ryan Finley looked at the defensive formation and realized something wasn't right.

With less than eight seconds left on the play clock in the second quarter of Sunday's game against Baltimore, the Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback got out of his stance and yelled out a new play. Finley got the snap in time and had a learning experience a few moments later.

Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters anticipated Finley's throw, which was just a little inside, jumped toward the ball and returned the interception for an 89-yard touchdown that sparked Baltimore's 49-13 rout.

Mistakes were always inevitable in Finley's debut as Cincinnati's starting quarterback. Bengals coach Zac Taylor is fine with those. Making sure he doesn't repeat those errors will be pivotal for Finley as he tries to show he can be the Bengals' long-term answer at quarterback.

"He's going to learn from stuff like that," Taylor said of Finley's interception. "It's not all going to be easy."

Rebuilding, which is the only honest way to describe what's happening with Cincinnati (0-9), is never easy. Finley's ascent on the depth chart after Week 8 not only signaled that the franchise was gearing up for 2020 and beyond, but that the rest of 2019 was likely to include more rough patches as the roster is evaluated.

That includes difficulties for Finley, a fourth-round pick in April's draft. In his first career start, he was 16 of 30 for 167 yards, one touchdown and two turnovers that were returned for scores.

In addition to the pick-six, Finley also had a fumble in the third quarter that was scooped up by Baltimore's Tyus Bowser for a 33-yard touchdown return. Taylor said the Ravens' defense did a good job at the line of scrimmage and had effective coverage on Cincinnati's receivers, factors that led to Finley's sack and fumble.

Whether he meant to or not, Taylor also referenced what Finley will have to overcome during the final seven games of the regular season. According to NFL Next Gen, the Bengals were 31st in average yards of separation on passing targets entering Week 9. Cincinnati also had the NFL's worst pass block win rate (an ESPN stat powered by NFL Next Gen) at 39%.

Because of injuries and the state of the roster, Finley and the Bengals will have to work with what they have.

"What options do we have?" said Taylor, who added that players are still giving good effort and doing what's asked. "A lot of them are out there making plays, and I think Finley did a great job extending some plays and giving guys some opportunities."

For all of the lumps Finley will take, that ability to extend plays was among the most promising things he did against Baltimore. In one case, Finley avoided a free rusher in the backfield, scanned the defense and found running back Joe Mixon, who turned a short throw into a 23-yard completion. Earlier on that drive, Finley checked into a play that turned into a 15-yard gain.

That's why Finley received positive reviews from his teammates, despite the miscues.

"It's great when you can use your legs and get out of the pocket," wide receiver Tyler Boyd said. "He seemed confident the entire game. He didn't put his head down. He didn't get frustrated, and always went to the next play."

Finley will have time to increase his familiarity with his role now that he's the starter. Instead of being the scout-team quarterback at practice, he will take all of his reps with the first-team offense, which should rapidly accelerate his development. In turn, that should help the Bengals figure out if Finley is good enough that they don't have to take a quarterback early in the 2020 draft.

Finley isn't worried about fending off the likes of Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa or LSU's Joe Burrow, two quarterbacks who figure to go early in the draft. He's just trying to learn from the mistakes in his debut and lead the Bengals to their first victory along the way.

"There's a ton to work on," Finley said. "This team's not going to give up. And I'm sure as heck not going to let anybody give up. I'm ready to fight, and I'm ready to compete. I think our whole offense is ready to do that."