If you don’t remember Week 14 of the 2015 regular season, just ask any real Bengals fan. That was the day Andy Dalton let his anger get the best of him. That was the day Dalton tried to tackle a 300-pound defensive end and broke his thumb. Before that weird set of circumstances, Dalton was in the conversation for league MVP. His year was truly looking like that of an elite quarterback.
Dalton had come of age. The 2015 campaign was one that started off like many others for the Bengals. They were winning early and trying to build momentum for the playoffs. But a funny thing happened on the way to the AFC North Championship. There was suddenly a difference in the way Dalton was carrying himself. He had picked up a swagger that was obvious to anyone around him.
Bengals free agent receiver Mohamed Sanu saw it. He explained the change, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. Dalton was more aggressive and challenged the players to be better.
“Andy is just taking more charge, being more assertive about the situation knowing that we look up to him and he’s our leader. We’ll follow him wherever he goes, and he’s going to lead us to where we need to go. We have all our trust and belief in him. He’s brought us in the right direction. He’s taken command of everything and he’s doing a great job of it.”
The change was evident in his play, as well. Dalton was the main reason the Bengals were able to start the season at a record-breaking pace. The Orange and Black began the year at 8-0 and became the first team in franchise history to do so.
With tons of weapons, the Bengals were not depending on one superstar to carry the team. Dalton’s sudden change of leadership qualities and level of play stood out. Dalton exceeded all expectations, finishing with a 106.2 quarterback rating, 25 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions, and passing for 250 yards per game.
Per ESPN stats, Dalton’s numbers were even better, after a closer look. He finished the year with a 66.1 completion percentage. If Dalton plays without getting injured, his projected passing yards would be well over 4,000. That would surpass his total of 3,250 from 2014. His 73.1 QBR was light years better than any of his past four years.
When compared to the passing stats of Cam Newton, the reigning MVP, Dalton would have beaten the Panthers star for the crown. That’s even with the comparison done at 13 games.
Dalton was eager to prove his worth to the Bengals faithful. He started the year hot and didn’t slack off. After putting in offseason work with quarterback guru Tom House, Dalton checked with his staff periodically. He was determined to lead the Bengals to another playoff and beyond.
Jeremy Hill never regained the flash of his rookie year and the running game suffered. Dalton had to take on the role of an offensive superhero. As a result, the Bengals scored more points per game during the 2015 season (26.2) than they did in 2014 (22.8) and Dalton was better prepared to carry the team when needed. That’s a sign of an elite quarterback leading his team.
Clutch comeback wins over the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks were other impressive moments on Dalton’s resume, for entrance to the elite club.
The strides that Dalton made in terms of leadership shouldn’t disappear. The promotion of Ken Zampese to offensive coordinator will only improve Dalton’s comfort in the system. Dalton was on the verge of proving his haters wrong. With amazing numbers and another year of learning under wraps, it may be time to approve his membership.
[Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]