Playtime is over. The slate is clean, and every team is starting out with a 0-0 record. The only thing that matters now is staying undefeated until the Lombardi trophy is being hoisted in victory. The Cincinnati Bengals would like to do that. For five years, they have had the opportunity to make it to the Super Bowl. Each year has been an exercise in futility.
This may be the year that the Bengals turn the corner. Sunday’s win, over the Baltimore Ravens, matched a franchise high for Cincinnati. The 12-4 record is shared by only two other Bengals teams. The 1988 and 1981 units made it all the way to the big dance with identical records. The Super Bowl Bengals flaunted teams with power and speed. The current version of the team has the same advantage.
The quarterback position for the Bengals has always been one that caused headaches for coaches and fans. Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown has put his fan base through years of heartache. Some of the names that have been under center for his team have been both questionable and forgettable. But the investment in Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron has proven to be a stroke of genius.
Before Dalton got hurt, the Bengals’ signal-caller was en route to his best season. He had put to rest all the typical “Bad Andy” references he’d accumulated over the years. The Bengals saw him mature into one of the most feared and respected quarterback’s in the league. Bengals O-coordinator, Hue Jackson, offered an explanation of Dalton’s transformation via the Cincinnati Enquirer.
“He’s different,” Jackson said. “I think he’s another year in the system. I think he’s comfortable. I think he’s comfortable with me. I think he’s comfortable with his teammates. He now knows it’s time for him to take the next step in his process. I think that’s what he’s doing.”
Dalton was that and more. He realized it was time to become the heart and soul of the offense. He did that with flying colors. Now, in his absence, AJ McCarron has to be the light that leads the Bengals into battle.
So far, in three games, McCarron is 2-1. His biggest achievement in the three games is going without an interception. The Bengals are fortunate to have him as a backup. His numbers rival those of any starter in those games. He’s gone 54-of-83 for 552 yards and four touchdowns. McCarron’s passer rating of 100.0 is on par with Dalton’s 106.3. McCarron’s completion ratio (65.1) is also nothing to sneeze at.
McCarron is steadily improving. With a capable understudy and weapons of mass destruction all around him, the Bengals are set. They should have no problem ending the 25 years of playoff losses. Since filing in for Dalton, McCarron has thrown for 832 yards and six touchdowns.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has liked what he’s seen in McCarron. It’s time for those regular season decisions to make waves in the postseason.
“We felt good about his decision-making those last three games,” Lewis remarked. “We weren’t as thrilled with some of his decisions his first opportunity. He’s progressed.”
The only one under more pressure than McCarron is Lewis, who is 0-6 in the postseason. His Bengals have done so poorly in the playoffs that he’s compared himself to Susan Lucci, the television soap star who was nominated 19 times before finally winning an Emmy.
Asked what a playoff win would mean to him personally, Lewis replied with a smile.
“One-and-six. That’s all. It’s important to win and move on.”
The Bengals have the talent to turn things around this season. The quarterback position isn’t as questionable as some may think. Per sources at ESPN, Dalton has had the cast removed from his right hand. But with the progress McCarron has shown, there’s no need to rush his recovery. The Bengals have a good chance at turning the corner.
[Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images]