How Brandon Allen went from quarantine QB to Bengals' potential No. 2 in 2021

CINCINNATI -- Brandon Allen's life was already about to change when he got a text from Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor.

Allen's wife, Sarah, was in labor in an Arkansas hospital's delivery room in mid-July as the couple awaited their firstborn when Brandon got the message: Give Taylor a call whenever he had a chance.

A couple of hours after Sarah gave birth to their son, Oakland, and the newborn and mom were asleep, Brandon ducked out of the room and phoned Taylor. ("He was a little upset that I had called him so fast," Allen told ESPN.)

The Bengals signed Allen to be their "quarantine quarterback," a precaution Taylor and Cincinnati deemed necessary because of COVID-19. But when rookie Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 22, that plan changed. Suddenly, Allen was the starter.

Allen will have one more chance to bring the Bengals a victory this season on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Coming off a career performance, it will also be his final opportunity before the offseason to show NFL teams, including Cincinnati, why he should be a backup somewhere next season.

"Anytime you get an opportunity to get in a game is to put on film that you belong," Allen, 28, told ESPN this week. "I've definitely thought about it, and I obviously want to go out and play well and get a win."

One week after Allen missed a game because of a bone bruise in a knee, he turned in the best performance of his career. The fifth-year player out of Arkansas was 29-of-37 passing for 371 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 37-31 win over the Houston Texans. It gave the Bengals their first road victory since 2018, and it was Allen's second win as an NFL quarterback.

It was in stark contrast to what his career looked like at the end of the summer. Heading into this season, Allen was without a team after the Denver Broncos opted not to re-sign him at the end of 2019.

Allen made three starts with the Broncos. The final one was a performance that left him with an understandably sour taste. Allen was 10-of-25 passing for 82 yards and an interception in a 20-3 loss at Buffalo and was benched for rookie Drew Lock.

Because of Sarah's pregnancy, Allen opted to stay in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to work on his mechanics during the offseason. When he had arrived in Denver, the coaching staff changed his footwork, an improvement Allen wanted to continue.

But as the 2020 season approached, Allen was still not on a roster. Before the Bengals called, Allen was planning on staying in shape in case a team needed him this fall. In his mind, it was still early to think about a life after football that might include something in real estate or coaching.

At the time, the role Cincinnati wanted for Allen was unique because of the pandemic. He was needed only if the other two quarterbacks, Burrow and Ryan Finley, had virus-related issues.

Initially as the quarantine quarterback, Allen participated in team meetings via Zoom from his hotel room at the Marriott on the other side of the Ohio River in northern Kentucky. At practices, Allen mostly watched from a distance. All of his significant throwing work came after practices with Bengals assistant Dan Pitcher.

But Cincinnati needed a starter when Burrow went down. Allen was familiar with the Bengals' offense because of his time with the Los Angeles Rams, where Taylor was an assistant before Cincinnati hired him in 2019. Taylor moved Allen from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and placed him ahead of Finley on the depth chart.

Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, who graded Allen highly coming out of Arkansas in 2016, said Allen has looked more comfortable and sharper as he continues to get reps.

"He's just got this way about him," said Callahan, who also praised Allen's preparation and ability to take things from the meeting room to the field.

Allen missed the Bengals' Week 15 upset win over Pittsburgh with a bruised knee but returned last Sunday to lead a comeback win over Houston. Allen helped engineer the game-winning drive with 1:57 left in the game.

"Brandon was locked in from the first snap," Bengals rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins said. "You could tell the way he was communicating with the guys in the middle of a play, on the sideline when the defense was on the field. He was just being that vocal guy you want running the offense."

Allen bolstered his case to be Cincinnati's backup quarterback next season when Burrow returns from knee surgery in 2021. Allen said the option is something he "absolutely" favors as he approaches the offseason.

When asked about Allen's viability in that role next season, Taylor said he's focused on playing against the Ravens (10-5), a game that could give the Bengals their first three-game winning streak in a season since 2015.

"I'm glad we've got Brandon," Taylor said. "He's done a great job for us, particularly in these last two games he's played. Those decisions are decisions we'll make in the offseason."

For now, Allen has one more chance to show he belongs in the NFL in 2021.

"I know there's a lot of things on the rise here," Allen said. "Obviously, it does come down to you going out, playing well, getting the win and proving to a lot of people that you belong to play in this league."