This Will Be The Year That Andy Dalton Shines

The Cincinnati Bengals are one of the elite teams this year. Yes, that’s right. The lowly Bengals that everyone loves to hate are playing lights-out, and getting hotter as the playoffs approach. Once again, that will be the test for this team and Andy Dalton. Can Dalton finally win in the postseason? If things go right, this will be the year that Dalton shines. The demons of January will be exorcised.

Andrew Gregory Dalton has been dealt a bad hand. The football gods decided to test his mettle and see how bad he wanted to win. Dalton was selected by the Bengals in the second round (35th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft and signed a four-year deal. There was no doubt about who would be the starting quarterback that year. Carson Palmer was lobbying for a ticket to anywhere, and veteran Bruce Gradkowski was the man to back him up.

On September 11, Dalton made his first start of the year. He was being thrown into the Dawg Pound with the Cleveland Browns. What a wonderful way to be welcomed to the NFL. The rookie signal-caller showed poise and grit. Before leaving with an injury, Dalton made the Browns recognize his skills.

According to ESPN, Dalton led the Bengals to 13 points before he left. He finished the game with a passer rating of 102.4 and one touchdown. He completed 10-of-15 passes for a completion percentage of 66.7. Not a bad start for a rookie. His second game was on the road in Denver. Despite the Bengals losing, Dalton played the entire game and showed once again that he was no joke. He mounted a comeback in the second half that fell short. But he completed 19-of-29 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns.

Dalton’s final numbers against the Broncos were more than respectable. He went 27-of-41 for 332 yards. Again he boasted a passer rating of 107.0. If you aren’t seeing a pattern, you need to do some research of your own. Andy Dalton is a gamer. He has the heart of a champion. But things take time in the NFL. It’s a new world filled with unforeseen challenges that seem to always get blamed on the quarterback. Oftentimes, the losses aren’t the fault of the man under center.

But wait. Dalton can’t win the big game. He’s afraid of prime time lights and cameras. Once again, you have to put in some research. In 2008, he led TCU (11-2) to a Poinsettia Bowl victory over powerhouse Boise State (12-1). In 2009, he led the Horned Frogs to a perfect 12-0 regular season, and another BCS berth. He lost to the same Boise State Broncos (14-0).

Andy Dalton wasn’t finished. He led TCU to another perfect 13-0 season, and completed what he started. The Horned Frogs won the Rose Bowl and ended 2010 as the No. 2 team in college football.

Yeah. That Dalton kid can’t win big games. But unfortunately, college and NFL accomplishments don’t mix.

The Bengals have been to the playoffs four times, under the leadership of Dalton. Each loss has not been his fault. There have been drops, fumbles, and generally bad play from Bengals teams that should have won the matchups.

But aren’t elite quarterbacks supposed to be able to bring teams back from the edge of defeat? Mr. Dalton has 12 come-from-behind wins and 16 game-winning-drives, per Pro-Football-Reference. That should be enough to persuade the haters right? Nope. Until he wins a playoff game at night, he’s not a worthy passer.

This is the year. The time has come for Andy Dalton to walk in greatness. He’s leading the Bengals to wonderful heights, with franchise records and personal achievements. But the year will be a bust if he fails to produce. He’ll have to endure the whispers one more year. Dalton has been in the same system five years. It’s time to move forward.

This will be the year Andrew Dalton shines.

[Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images]