Heading into the 2011 NFL season, Bengals fans were bracing themselves for a bad one. They lost their all-time leading receiver, they were just coming out of the longest NFL work stoppage in the league's history, their franchise quarterback wanted to retire more than play another game in a Bengals uniform and to replace him we got a rookie that nobody really knew much about.
All of that should have combined to create a disastrous 2011 season. That hasn't been the case, though. Even though the Bengals have lost four of the last five games and they've severely hurt their chances of heading to the playoffs in 2011, the fact that they're in the playoff conversation is nothing short of amazing, and we owe a lot of our thanks to rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.
Dalton has been amazing so far this season. His poise and confidence in the pocket is so extraordinary for a rookie quarterback and when he and A.J. Green hook up on the field, they give you the sense that the Bengals can beat any team in the NFL.
Dalton will likely be one of the few rookie quarterback in the NFL to throw at least 20 touchdowns and win eight games since the 1970 merger. Does that make him one of the best rookie quarterback in the last 40 years?
The last quarterback to throw more than 20 touchdowns in his rookie season was Peyton Manning (26 in 1998). However, Manning wasn't able to lead the Colts anywhere close to eight wins (they went 3-13). There have been rookie quarterbacks that have won quite a few games in their rookie years, even rookie quarterbacks that led their teams deep into the playoffs. Mark Sanchez led the Jets to the AFC Championship game in 2009 as a rookie, but he only threw 12 touchdown passes in his first regular season. And then we have Dan Marino's rookie season in 1983. He threw for 20 touchdowns and six interceptions in his rookie season in which he led the Dolphins to a 12-4 regular season record.
There has been hardly any rookie quarterbacks since the NFL and the AFL in 1970 that have been able to throw 20 or more touchdown passes while leading their team to at least eight wins. If Dalton throws two more touchdowns and wins one more game in the next three weeks, and there's no reason to think that he won't, should his rookie season be alongside Marino's.
The Bengals play the 2-11 Rams, the 6-7 Cardinals and the 10-3 Ravens in the last three weeks of the season. If Dalton wins at least one of those games and throws more than two touchdowns becoming the first rookie quarterback to do so since the merger, shouldn't he be named the Offensive Rookie of the Year? If Cam Newton wasn't a rookie in 2011 and if he hadn't rushed for 13 touchdowns already, I'd say yes.
It looks like Dalton's only shot at winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award may be to lead his team to the playoffs. It won't be easy but the Bengals can pull it off and there's no other rookie signal caller that's better suited for the job.