Holiday cheer may come early for fans of the Cincinnati Bengals. After a season of giddy highs and gut-wrenching lows, the Bengals are getting prepared for the playoffs. But with the loss of Andy Dalton as the leader, many have begun to lose faith. Second-year backup AJ McCarron is making his first start for the Bengals. He walked onto the stage with a gritty performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and gave Bengals fans a reason to believe again.
McCarron did a fine job filling in for the injured Dalton. He’ll be the man calling the plays against the San Francisco 49ers. Reports from the Los Angeles Times put Dalton back under center by the time the playoffs begin. Though it’s wishful thinking, that may not happen. The Bengals are prepping to go with the tatted fifth round draft pick.
Though things may look bleak at the moment, Bengals fans still have a reason to believe the team can win in the postseason. This may be the year the Bengals prove all their doubters wrong. The injuries have started to pile up, but they have time to heal by January. Here are five reasons to believe AJ McCarron can lead the Bengals.
The Bengals knew what they were doing when they picked McCarron in the draft. He comes from a championship program that has produced a laundry list of NFL players. His list of accomplishments reads like a rap sheet from a 1950s gangster movie. He completed 291 passes without an interception for the second longest streak in SEC history. His record was 36-4 (.900) as a starter. McCarron holds the Alabama record for most touchdowns. The Bengals picked him for just such an emergency and also as an insurance option for Dalton. He’ll continue to get better as he gets more reps with the first team offense.
The weapons around him
Some people have gotten bent out of shape about McCarron mentioning Tom Brady taking over for Drew Bledsoe. It wasn’t a comparison to Brady. It was about the similarities of the talent. The Patriots had a roster of well-rounded players. McCarron is walking into the same situation. The Bengals are loaded with weapons that would be appreciated by any starting quarterback. He will be blessed with deep-receiving threats, tight ends that block and catch with ease, and a crazy running game. The offensive line is one of the best in the league. Tackle Andrew Whitworth has already stated that the line will step its game up to protect the Bengals’ young signal-caller.
Hue Jackson to the rescue
The Bengals’ offensive coordinator said he won’t have McCarron handing off 70 times. That means he has faith in the arm of AJ. But it also confirms that McCarron won’t look like a statue on a team full of speedy gifted receivers. Jackson will devise game plans that cater to the strengths of his new chess piece. At Alabama, McCarron was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. Hue will let McCarron have some fun.
A good offense is a strong defense. The Bengals have one of the better defensive units in the NFL. Even though they gave up 33 points to the Steelers, it was in a transition situation. The shock of Dalton being lost was felt by everyone on the team. Under pressure they performed well. If McCarron picks six and another short field score are wiped away, the Bengals are in the game. It’s suddenly a one-possession game and things are interesting.
McCarron has something to prove
McCarron doesn’t have to prove that he’s the next coming of Tom Brady. But he does have to show Bengals fans that there’s still hope. He has to take the city of Cincinnati on his shoulders and carry them to new heights. The Bengals know he’s a winner. That’s why they drafted him. Now, that legend has to translate to wins. When that happens, everyone will believe in AJ McCarron.
[Feature Photo by Frank Victores/Associated Press]