It's been rough for quarterback Andy Dalton this week.
Yes. One could actually argue that it's been a rough season for the second-year quarterback. Dalton has thrown 10 interceptions, including one during every game, with three returned for a touchdown. On the other hand Dalton has set his a career-high passer rating game (twice), already thrown more three-touchdown games this year than last, while on pace to generate his first 4,000-yard season. Yet ultimately his team is 3-4 this season, dropping the quarterback's win-loss record to a career .500 (including the Wild Card loss last season).
It's clearly not been enough.
This week head coach Marvin Lewis spoke to the media, calling out Dalton several times. On Monday the head coach noted that Dalton's inconsistency has stood out the most during the first seven games. On Wednesday he spoke more in detail:
"We're looking for our quarterback and our middle linebacker to take hold of our football team, and I think that's important for us. I think both guys are such good people, that you've got to be a little bit of a (jerk). You do. That's what these guys we're talking about have. That's part of it.
"Andy has a great deal of confidence, self-confidence, internal confidence, confidence in the guys around him. But at some point you step out of your skin and you go. And it's time to go. It's time to step out of our skin, both places, all throughout. We've wallowed around here in mediocrity. Let's go. That's the thing we've got to do. These guys that have it, they've got it and they've done it. And everybody around them, there's got to be a confidence level, too, of anticipation and then clicking on those things."
Of the 53-man roster, the player with the most to prove this weekend is Dalton.
Along with shedding the struggles of a second-year quarterback, the Cincinnati Bengals have reached a climax during their season-long story that if they lose this weekend against the Denver Broncos, you can kiss their postseason grandeur goodbye. This schedule doesn't get easier and at 3-5, the cliff becomes too steep to climb.
Is it unfair to place it all at Dalton's feet? Yes. Obviously other players need to generate more production, namely BenJarvus Green-Ellis, any No. 2 wide receiver stepping up, the middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and whatever safety lineup is on the field. Reducing the turnovers and generating time-consuming drives by converting third downs are only the beginning, and that starts with Dalton.