After guiding the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs for the third consecutive year in the 2013 season, Andy Dalton was scrutinized for his poor performance in the team’s playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers. Dalton has put together a spectacular first three years to his career, putting up historic numbers and leading the Bengals to the playoffs each season, and this all happened after Dalton was drafted to a Bengals franchise that was in shambles.
After finishing 4-12 in a season in which the Bengals lost 10 consecutive games, the team lost franchise quarterback Carson Palmer, top receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, leading tackler Dhani Jones, defensive star Jonathan Joseph, and hired a new offensive coordinator in Jay Gruden.
Enter rookie quarterback Dalton and rookie wide receiver A.J. Green.
In the 2011-12 season, Dalton led the Bengals to a 9-7 record and the second Wild Card spot in the playoffs; in that season, Dalton threw 20 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, posted a 58.1 completion percentage, and led four game-winning drives, all of which were fourth-quarter comebacks. Although Dalton did not play well in the Bengals’ playoff loss to the Houston Texans, he led a team that was supposed to finish with five wins at best to the playoffs — as a rookie.
Keep in mind that Dalton’s receiving corps was made up of one similar to that of the Panthers. His best receiver was an inexperienced rookie, and there were no other impact receivers on the roster.
In the 2012 season, Dalton started to gain more attention. He led the Bengals to a 10-6 record while leading them to the second Wild Card spot for the second consecutive year. Dalton threw 27 touchdowns to 16 interceptions and posted a 62.3 completion percentage, while playing for an atrocious offensive line that allowed him to be sacked 46 times. He led three game-winning drives, one of which was a fourth- quarter comeback.
This season was the first time that the Bengals made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since 1982. Dalton also became the third quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 20 touchdown passes in his first two seasons, joining Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. He struggled again in the playoffs, and the Bengals lost to the Texans for a second consecutive year.
The 2013 season was perhaps Dalton’s best season to date. He led the Bengals to an 11-5 record, throwing 33 touchdown passes to 20 interceptions, posting a 61.9 completion percentage, and a passer rating of 88.8. Supported by his top-five defense, Dalton was only forced to lead three game-winning drives, none of which occurred in the fourth quarter.
The Bengals posted a perfect 8-0 record in Paul Brown stadium, yet lost to the Chargers in the first round of the playoffs at home.
After his playoff losses, Dalton has undergone major scrutiny, and for good reason. Although he has succeeded in the regular season, he has yet to show any sort of ability to win in the playoffs. But there is hope for Dalton; take Peyton Manning, for example. Manning, like Dalton, played spectacular football during his first three seasons, yet he lost his first three playoff games.
Manning probably underwent his fair share of scrutiny, but he finally won his first playoff game in his sixth NFL season.
What’s the point of all this? Be patient with Dalton. Sure, his defense has been spectacular and yes, Green is the best receiver in football not named Calvin Johnson. Dalton should be able to do his part, right? Maybe not, and that’s okay. It took Manning six years to win his first playoff game; it could take Dalton even longer. However, with three playoff losses now behind him and a new contract to his name, Dalton is now ready to make a name for himself in the NFL.
He may not be Manning, but he is still a solid starting quarterback who would be the best quarterback on at least 15 different NFL rosters.
Dalton has support from his coaching staff, his teammates and Bengals fans everywhere. After posting a perfect passer rating in the Bengals’ Week 2 preseason loss to the Jets, the “Who Dey” nation is ready to see what the “Red Rifle” can do for the Bengals this year.