Andy Dalton delivered the full Andy Dalton Experience—occasionally brilliant, occasionally stupefying—in the Bengals 27-24 victory over the Ravens on Sunday afternoon. Figuring Dalton would play a major swing role in Cincinnati’s chances (quality analysis, I know), I kept an in-game journal. After the game, I realized that if an impartial observer who possesses no football knowledge read through my notes, they would’ve come to the conclusion that my various ALL CAPS rants and non sequiturs would warrant personality medication.
Let us examine Dalton’s day before things went batshit crazy in the fourth quarter.
- Dalton led a 9-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession of the game, capped by Dalton plowing into the endzone on a QB sneak. The Bengals earned three first downs on the march—one more than they managed in the entire first half the previous week at Indianapolis. Progress!
- The next drive began at the Bengals own 1-yard line following a goal-line stand by the defense. Predictably, the upshot was a 3-and-out.
- The next two drives started at the Bengal 21 and resulted in punts—though through no fault of Dalton did either of those drives stall. The Red Rifle made a pair of first-down throws on each drive, only to have them negated by Andre Smith holding penalties. (This will come as no surprise to those who watch the Bengals regularly, but Big Andre leads the team in whistles).
Following a placid first two quarters, the Andy Dalton Experience reached critical mass by the end of the second half.
- After Emmanuel Lamur picked off Joe Flacco on the Ravens’ first drive of the third quarter, Dalton piloted an 8-play, 51-yard touchdown march. Adam Jones intercepted Flacco on the next possession, and though the Bengals could only manage to advance the ball four yards, they did get a field goal out of it.
- Near the end of the third frame, the Bengals—starting at their own 20—went 65 yards in 12 plays. Facing 3rd-and-3 from the Raven 15, Dalton overthrew an open Greg Little in the end zone, costing Cincinnati six points.
Note: This is where things got skitzo.
- Trailing 20-14, the Ravens went 3-and-out, and the Bengals took over on their own 30 with 10:19 remaining in the fourth quarter. Facing a 3-and-1 early in that drive, Dalton kept the ball on a zone-read play and ran for the first down.
The Bengals then trekked to the Raven 32 before Dalton, looking as if he were trying to throw the ball away LEFT-HANDED, fumbled the football. The Ravens recovered and advanced the ball to the Bengals 8-yard line, scoring a touchdown on the next play. The actual entry from my in-game journal when viewing Dalton’s fumble was, “GUS DAMN FREROTTE STRIKES AGAIN.”
(For uninitiated, here’s the reference point behind the mention of Frerotte, a former Bengal quarterback).
- The next entries were, “JESUS WHY THROW THE BALL IN THERE!” (Dalton interception), and, “WHAT CAN SANU DO FOR YOU? HEART PALPITATIONS!” (53-yard pass from Dalton to Mohamed Sanu that set up Dalton’s game-winning touchdown run from a yard out).
(Following Dalton’s interception, I imagine the give-and-take between Marvin Lewis and Hue Jackson went something like a certain conversation between Brad Pitt and Matt Damon in Ocean’s Eleven.)
At the end of the day, Dalton did more good than harm, and he deserves a free meal at Montgomery Inn for guiding the game-winning touchdown drive with the likes of Little (cut by the Browns AND Raiders), Brandon Tate (self-explanatory) and a rookie running back (Jeremy Hill) as his non-Sanu weapons.
Post-game, when asked whether that final drive was one of the foremost reasons he believes in Andy Dalton, Lewis campaigned for his quarterback’s best attribute of all: a short memory.
“He can just block it out and go,” Lewis stumped. “That’s one of Andy Dalton’s best qualities, other than his accuracy at passing the football. But it’s his ability to block out the negative play and just keep going.”
Watching Dalton play quarterback for three quarters Sunday was like enjoying a nice afternoon drive through a picturesque countryside, with a few barely noticeable bumps here and there. The last quarter was like drag racing on the Brent Spence Bridge through a snowstorm in rush hour.
But the most interesting thing overall is that Dalton has in fact taken a legitimate step forward this season in the face of less-than-ideal workplace settings. Despite only having A.J. Green for three (out of seven) full games, despite having Tyler Eifert for less than a quarter, and despite not having Marvin Jones’s services at all, Dalton’s interception percentage has been cut in half from last season; his completion percentage (65.4 percent) is the highest of his career; and he’s been sacked only seven times—a credit to Dalton’s pocket awareness as much as the offensive line’s protection.
Dalton’s also received minimal assistance from the running game. Combined, Hill and Giovani Bernard are averaging 4.03 yards per rush, a number that would rank in the bottom half of the NFL.
Face it: While Andy Dalton may not be The Reason why the Bengals are 4-2-1 and in sole possession of first place in the AFC North, he is undeniably One of The Reasons. And with Green due back soon (Please, God, very soon) and a pair of home games looming against the lowly Jaguars (1-7) and the who-knows-how-good-they-really-are Browns (4-3, but have lost eight of their last 11 matchups vs. the Bengals), Dalton’s stock may rise even more.
But just in case, buckle your seatbelt.