Cincinnati — Back from a three-week exile, Andy Dalton had more of a swagger in practice, as though he was out to prove something.
“He had a chip on his shoulder all week,” running back Joe Mixon said.
Dalton returned from one of the lowest points of his nine-year career and got a long-awaited victory Sunday for the coach who benched him, throwing a touchdown pass during a 22-6 victory over the New York Jets.
The Bengals (1-11) ended the longest losing streak in their history and finally shed their distinction as the NFL’s lone winless team. He got coach Zac Taylor his first win and set two franchise career passing records along the way.
The only thing he wouldn’t do is gloat.
“This one’s very satisfying, with everything I’ve gone through this year,” Dalton said. “To be the record-breaker today, being the first one after not playing the last three weeks, this one means a lot.”
Taylor benched Dalton after the eighth loss, deciding it was time to look toward next year and see if Ryan Finley fit in their plans. With the rookie struggling and the season careening toward 0-16, Taylor reversed course and went back to Dalton, who made the difference in front of the smallest crowd in Paul Brown Stadium’s 20-year history.
“He did a great job pumping everybody up,” said Tyler Boyd, who caught the touchdown pass. “He won the game for us.”
Carlos Dunlap and Sam Hubbard dunked Taylor with ice water in the final seconds on a cold, gray, December day when he got the inaugural win, courtesy of the quarterback he’d benched. Dalton got a game ball as a thank you.
“For him to come back and lead us and get this win, it says a lot about his character,” Taylor said.
Dalton also set a couple of franchise passing marks in front of 39,804 fans, the smallest home crowd since the final game of the 1995 season at Cinergy Field.
Dalton put Cincinnati ahead to stay with a 17-yard pass to Boyd that made him the Bengals’ career leader in touchdown passes, moving ahead of Ken Anderson with 198. He also passed Anderson for the franchise’s career completion mark. Dalton finished 22 of 37 for 243 yards with no interceptions and one sack.
Joe Mixon had a 5-yard touchdown run against the league’s stingiest run defense as the Bengals put up their second-most points this season, trailing a 26-23 loss to Arizona.
Nothing good happened for the Jets (4-8), who had their three-game winning streak snapped and became the first team to lose to two teams that were 0-7 or worse in the same season. Miami was 0-7 when it beat the Jets on Nov. 3.
The Jets couldn’t extend their high-scoring momentum behind Sam Darnold. An improving Bengals defense limited the Jets to their fewest points since a 33-0 loss to New England on Oct. 21.
New York had scored 34 points in each of its last three games, but was self-destructive Sunday. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum was called for holding in the end zone, resulting in a safety. The Jets were flagged 10 times for 106 yards overall.
Darnold was 28 of 48 for 239 yards with four sacks. New York also had a couple of long gains nullified by penalties.
“We couldn’t really get a rhythm,” Darnold said. “Whenever you have penalties, especially on big plays, it’s hard.”
This time, the defense added to the lead instead of giving it up, getting its first safety in three years. Dunlap had three of Cincinnati’s four sacks.
“We just couldn’t stay consistent on anything,” coach Adam Gase said. “Every time we had something going, we’d shoot ourselves in the foot. I mean, we had eight penalties on offense alone.”