The 2015 season didn’t start out like a fire drill for the Cincinnati Bengals. It looked like a year filled with promise and achievement. Bandwagon fans came out of the closet and old followers had more pride in the team. The media noticed the change in Andy Dalton as he threatened to break records. Then, like a Hollywood script, he fractured his thumb. It was time for AJ McCarron to prove his worth as a capable backup in the NFL.
So far, the Bengals like the maturity in AJ McCarron. They’ve seen him take the reins and do more than manage a team. McCarron has stepped up his leadership and the Bengals are rallying behind him. The second-year player from Alabama is showing he gets what it takes to be a successful quarterback. Tackle Andrew Whitworth, per the Cincinnati Bengals website, had nothing but praise for McCarron and his efforts. McCarron treated the O-line and quarterbacks to dinner at Elway’s Steak House.
“One thing AJ gets is you can see from being at Alabama and being in a lot of big situations, he gets leadership. He gets getting guys around him to play well for him to look good. He gets all of that,” Whitworth explained. “That was important to him because he wanted to do something to say, ‘Hey man, I know I’m going to have success based off of y’all.’ That’s something he gets. He gets that part of it.”
S/O to Matt Schaub for taking the offense out to Ruth's Chris tonight...can't imagine what that bill looked like— Jack Cornell (@JackCornell73) May 1, 2014
Giving gifts and treating the offensive line to dinner is nothing new in the world of the NFL. But to do it so early and understand that the implications go farther than the gift is a move in the right direction. That small – yet very expensive – gesture can be the difference between getting no time to pass or more than enough.
But it’s not about the food and gifts. It’s about McCarron’s growth as a player. In the two games that he’s started, the potential for greatness is there. For the most part, McCarron has managed to avoid the obvious mistakes. Since the two interceptions in the Steelers game, he hasn’t turned the ball over through the air. The fumble during Monday’s loss to the Denver Broncos came when he was doing his job.
“My fault, I told the guys that,” McCarron explained after the loss. “The snap caught me a little by surprise. I was looking to see how they were adjusting to A.J. coming in motion. It slipped through my hands, hit my rib protector and bounced off.”
There are moments when all the fan sees is a turnover. The reasons why are usually never explained. When they are, either the fans don’t accept it or they refuse to understand the pressure of the moment. McCarron’s willingness to accept the blame and discuss what happened is a reason for the Bengals to like his development.
In the Denver game, McCarron played well enough to win. His stats were comparable to those of Brock Osweiler, per ESPN. But in the second half of both his starts, the Bengals offense has come out flat. At halftime, McCarron was 12-of-17 for 119 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 109.7 passer rating. What really solidified his fast start was going 6-for-7 passing on third down.
McCarron is doing a commendable job in the absence of Dalton. O-coordinator Hue Jackson may not be popular, due to his play calling at times, yet he wants the fans to understand that McCarron is developing faster than expected. Jackson takes the blame for the loss from McCarron’s shoulders and places it on himself. The process takes time.
“This guy is trying his butt off. He’s battling as hard as he can,” Jackson said, complementing McCarron. “We’re playing good football teams. At the end of the day, he’s got to continue to find ways, I’ve got to continue to find ways, the rest of the group has to continue to find ways– and we will.”
The season finale against the Ravens will be a good time to find more ways to win. They’ll be looking for revenge after a season sweep of the Steelers. McCarron will have another opportunity to give the Bengals brass more to like.
[Feature Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images]