The Cincinnati Bengals, and their fans, are haunted by three consecutive trips to the playoffs that ended in bitter disappointment and bad losses. These ugly endings have marred what has been a remarkable, and unprecedented, run of trips to the postseason. Prior to its current incarnation, the franchise has never made the playoffs more than twice in a row. It’s easy to forget the successes, though, when failure is the last thing fans see.
Quarterback Andy Dalton has taken the brunt of abuse from disgruntled fans who say he is the only reason the Bengals haven’t broken through. The term “quarterback purgatory” has become commonplace in analysis of Dalton, and many of the team’s followers are hungry for a replacement. This dissatisfaction stems from some horrific playoff numbers, including only a single touchdown pass compared to six interceptions, and a playoff passer rating of just 56.2. Beyond just the raw numbers, though, is just simple ineffectiveness that is easy to see. He has looked rattled and it has showed, both on the stat sheet, and on the scoreboard.
Prior to Dalton’s arrival in Cincinnati, the Bengals were a team fed up with their quarterback. Carson Palmer had worn out his welcome, and fans were ready to move on. Dalton lacked size, but he was poised, experience, and smart. This has been evident for most of his NFL career. When provided with adequate protection, and a good game plan, he has been a solid passer. His regular season numbers have been more than good, and though he certainly has weaknesses, like his deep ball accuracy, he’s better than a large number of signal callers around the league. He’s deadly accurate on most passes and is adept at reading defenses. He also works hard to improve, and is respected by teammates. Playoff problems aside, Dalton has been good.
Detractors make some fair points. He still has trouble fully using the ability of receivers like AJ Green to get deep, and often misses game-changing passes down the field. He also still tends to be sketchy when under pressure, especially if it’s coming up the middle. And then there are those playoff numbers.
Dalton is on the final year of his rookie contract. He may or may not get an extension this offseason. Either way, he’ll face intense pressure and scrutiny from a fanbase tired of agonizing endings to their seasons. It seems pretty clear that Dalton isn’t as bad as many fans believe him to be. However, his reputation hinges on getting that elusive playoff win. If he can get over the hump, fans will forget the early issues. If he can’t get it done, then it might just be time for a replacement, and his playoff failure will be fans’ lasting image.