Anyone with a working television, Twitter account and/or Internet access has likely already read or heard plenty about the monstrosity of a quarterback that is Andy Dalton.
After suffering a first-round loss to the San Diego Chargers–the third straight season the Cincinnati Bengals’ playoff hopes ended during the opening slate–Dalton became the fun whooping boy. The Red Riffle completed 29 of 51 passes for 334 yards, but coughed up three turnovers (two interceptions and one fumble) during Cincinnati’s 27-10 loss.
That now gives Dalton a 56.9 completion percentage and six interceptions in three playoff games, all loses. We all know how this works; this is when all the analysts call for him to quit his NFL career and join the circus as the wild red-haired quarterback who can’t win a playoff game.
Sure, Giovanni Bernard’s costly fumble just outside the end zone prevented the Bengals from taking a 14-7 lead before halftime, and A.J. Green dropped a deep ball that would have allowed them to at least decrease the deficit to one score. But they aren’t quarterbacks, so no worries. Mistakes happen. Nobody is perfect.
Quarterbacks, on the other hand, are expected to play perfectly every game, and would it hurt to cure a few major diseases in the process?
With the usual targets either watching from home (Tony Romo, Matt Ryan) or sitting on the winning side (Philip Rivers), Dalton conveniently takes their place in the never-ending “Quarterback X is a choker” narrative. ESPN Michael Kay wasted no time declaring on his radio show that “Dalton has turned into Tony Romo.”
(That should be considered a compliment as Romo is a terrific quarterback with a higher career quarterback rating than Tom Brady, but it was meant to mean Dalton unravels when the pressure mounts.)
Human troll and destroyer of intelligent discussions about sports Skip Bayless (the same man who once questioned if Andrew Luck possessed the same “it factor” as Tim Tebow… and I swear that wasn’t from The Onion) took the bait and attacked Dalton.
While head coach Marvin Lewis gave his quarterback a vote of confidence, the fact that Dalton’s status as the team’s starting signal-caller came into question is silly in its own right. Dalton has gradually improved in every season, compiling career highs with 4,296 passing yards, 33 passing touchdowns and 7.33 yards per attempt.
Of course, every talking head is now wondering whether Dalton “can win the big one.” Because he has not succeeded in the past, it becomes a foregone conclusion that his sullied fate is set in stone for eternity. Can Dalton play excellent football over a three- or four-year string? Of course he can. The question should be “Will Dalton ever win the big one?”
Or better yet, will the Cincinnati Bengals collect a Super Bowl championship with Dalton operating as the starting quarterback? Remember, football, team sport.
But I’ll take the bait and focus the conversation on the scrutinized quarterback.
How Does Dalton Compare to Other QBs?
The Dan Patrick Show’s Andrew “McLovin” Perloff was one of few people not willing to bury Dalton the Monday after the Bengals’ unceremonious playoff exit.
It’s easy to succumb to the moment and lock yourself in a cell of shortsightedness, but one poor game should not define Dalton.
Instead, let’s delve into the big picture. This season, Dalton ranked seventh in passing yards, 12th in yards per attempt, third in passing touchdowns and 15th with a 88.8 quarterback rating. While his QB rating finished in the middle of the pack, it ranked higher than Brady, Cam Newton and Luck, the last of whom is now being celebrated as a hero for overcoming a 28-point deficit to keep the Indianapolis Colts alive.
To be fair, Dalton certainly has his flaws. Inconsistency plagued him throughout the year, and the turnover issues are nothing new after surrendering 20 picks during the season. Four of those came during the final game of the regular season, so he picked the worst possible time to endure a rough patch.
While he’s underwhelmed in all three postseason tries, we only know he has struggled in the postseason because he has played well enough to guide Cincinnati into extracurricular football. Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the only quarterbacks to play in each of the last three postseasons.
Nobody is making Dalton’s case for stardom, but the Bengals better be careful not to let the noise talk them into manufacturing a nonexistent problem at quarterback. Were Cincinnati to place him on the trading block, there’s around a dozen teams that should leap to the phone.
Dalton is no Rodgers or Brady, or even a Romo or Ryan, but he sits comfortably in the underappreciated tier of above-average players. One is Jay Cutler, who just received a massive contract extension.
Dalton’s Career Stats: 60.9 completion percentage, 6.97 YPA, 26 TDs (per season), 16 INTs (per season), 85.7 QB rating
Cutler: 61.0 completion percentage, 7.23 YPA, 23 TDs (per season), 17 INTs (per season), 84.6 QB rating
Then again, Dalton’s critics likely are not Cutler fans either. Cutler also has never won the big one, due mostly to his audacity to not play through an MCL sprain during the NFC Championship Game in 2011. The nerve on that guy. But would we hate a quarterback with those numbers if their team clawed through the playoff bracket and escaped with the Vince Lombardi trophy?
That guy exists. His name is Joe Flacco, and most pundits like him just fine.
Joe Flacco’s Career Stats: 60.2 completion percentage, 6.94 YPA, 20 TDs (per season), 13 INTs (per season), 83.7 QB rating
If not for Flacco going scorched earth on the NFL last January, Dalton compares favorable to his AFC North cohort. But we can’t just ignore that career-defining stretch, so Flacco is a playoff warrior! Nobody will deny his excellence during last season’s playoff run, but he faced none of the same backlash as Dalton even before last year because the Ravens won five playoff games in the four previous years under his watch.
By the way, he completed 44 percent of his passes for 437 passing yards and three interceptions during his first three playoff games. The following year, he stood on the winning side despite completing four passes for 34 yards against the New England Patriots? The only difference between his poor play and Dalton’s blunders? The Ravens saved his behind.
Were I to rank every quarterback, Dalton would find himself in the company of Cutler and Flacco outside the top 10 but firmly inside the top 20. They’re not All-Pros who can mitigate all other weaknesses, but Flacco showed in Baltimore that a guy of that caliber can win it all if surrounded by the right talent.
Although Dalton and Flacco are linked together by division, Dalton resembles another quarterback with championship much more closely. Can anybody think of an inconsistent, turnover-prone quarterback who completely flipped that reputation by heating up at the perfect time, twice?
Can Dalton Follow Eli Manning’s Path to Redemption?
Did you figure it out yet? Dammit, the subhead gave it away. Dalton has a lot of Eli Manning in him.
Remember when reading Kay’s comment above and immediately deciphering that he meant the Romo comparison as an insult. Well the Manning comp, while containing a positive point, actually is construed as a negative sentiment.
Like Manning, Dalton shares the ugly tendency to fall apart at the seams and throw away interceptions in bunches. Manning also exited his third year answering questions about his inability to win a playoff game. He torpedoed the New York Giants’ season during a disastrous rookie campaign before faltering in the first round during Years 2 and 3.
Manning’s First Two Playoff Games (2005-06): 26-45 (57.8 completion %), 274 passing yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs (0-2)
During his fourth season, he re-wrote his legacy behind the protective blanket of a stout offensive line, a fierce rushing attack and a rabid pass rush. When Manning escaped a bear-hug that somehow did not end in a sack, closed his eyes and darted a ball that David Tyree trapped on the tip of his helmet, he promptly went from being an unpolished loose cannon to a calculated winner with ice in his veins.
He wasn’t that great during his first Super Bowl run, but Manning prevailed by avoiding interceptions after throwing 20 during the regular season. Even the most reckless quarterbacks can glue together three or four games without a pick, and even the most precise passers occasionally turn the ball over three times in a nightmare affair.
Take away the titles, and Dalton is a superior thrower on paper. Even after finishing 33rd in ESPN’s QBR behind the likes of Jason Campbell, Kellen Clemens and Matt Schaub, Manning is a made man due to eight playoff games where everything came together.
For a more extreme example of a quarterback who struggled early in his career to win a postseason game, Eli’s brother–you may know him as arguably the greatest quarterback of all time–lost his first three playoff contests. Peyton’s Colts did not crack the postseason win column until his sixth season in 2003.
If you still think Peyton’s imperfect playoff resume tarnishes his track record, you’re a lost cause beyond repair. Yet sadly, hoards of old men in suits labeled Peyton a choker who wasn’t good enough when it counted. Did I mention he threw 55 passing touchdowns this season?
If Flacco and Eli can catch fire and cement their legitimacy as franchise quarterbacks (whether warranted or not), who is to say Dalton cannot accomplish the same?
As evidenced by a dazzling three-game stretch during the season, Dalton is capable of rattling off that type of hot streak. From Weeks 6-8, Dalton combined for 1,034 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. Adding on a subdued, but effective 20-27, 212-yard performance to defeat the Patriots the previous week, Dalton propelled his squad to four straight victories.
If that happened during January, legends are woven over Dalton’s greatness. Granted, tougher competition than the Bills, Lions and Jets beckons during the postseason, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Good Andy Dalton to show up one of these winters.