CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 16: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates after a touchdown during the NFL game against the Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium on October 16, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bengals won 27-17. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Pro Football Focus released their list of the top-ten quarterback performances of 2011. Based on their list, which implies much of their grading system, it's not hard to understand why Andy Dalton didn't make the top-ten. Despite the fact that he and the overall offense struggled last year (notably against the San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens), last year's rookie sensation of the nation turned out particularly strong performances. But were they the top performances in the league, compared to the elites in the league? Not really. But considering rookie quarterbacks rarely start all 16 games, much less string together a Pro Bowl season (thanks to the Super Bowl), I'd say that Dalton's season was a success. We take a look at some of those performances.
COMPLETIONS: 27 (Week 2 at Denver Broncos)
It wasn't so much that the Bengals were only down by seven points entering the third quarter against the Denver Broncos that was a concern. It was the struggling nature of Cincinnati's efforts to sustain first half possessions (only four first downs and 83 yards on offense).
After some adjustments, a boost in confidence and an epic 84-yard sprint by Jerome Simpson early in the fourth quarter, the Bengals eventually scored 19 points (two field goals, two touchdowns - one two-point conversion failed) in the second-half. If not for a Jonathan Wilhite quarterback sack on Denver's side of the field with less than one minute remaining, the Bengals quite possibly pull off the comeback victory.
It was the first view we had of Dalton's potential, not just as a quarterback, but a leader on this team with the pose of a wily veteran. After a mediocre snoozer in the first half, Dalton completed 19 of 30 passes in the second half for 280 yards passing and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 116.0.
And thus this young and impressionable young team said, "Game On."
TOUCHDOWNS: 3 (Week 9 at Tennessee Titans)
Down 17-14 entering the fourth quarter, Andy Dalton sneaks the football up the middle to convert a third-and-one. After Bobbie Williams' offensive holding negated a Cedric Benson first down, Andy Dalton launched a 23-yard pass down the left sidelines where A.J. Green did one of his freak-of-nature receptions to Tennessee's 19-yard line.
Eventually the Bengals were left with a third-and-18 where Dalton perfectly timed Green's hook-route, squeezing the football between Jason McCourty and Michael Griffin, both of whom violently collided. First down.
Eventually Dalton completed a five-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell, giving Dalton a career-high three touchdowns in a game.
It's not the numbers the league's elites put up, but that's not something this team needs. Dalton (and friends) did just enough to give the Bengals their sixth win of the season and fifth in a row.
COMPLETION PERCENTAGE: 78.1 (Week 6 vs. Indianapolis Colts)
If there was an example we could use the description of cerebral assassin (Triple H baby!), it was Andy Dalton's performance during Cincinnati's 27-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Completing 25 of 32 passes for a completion rate of 78.1 percent, it was the only game last season that Dalton surpassed the 70 percent plateau.
Despite the Colts being spectacularly awful last season, Dalton's performance came during another epic piss-poor rushing offense, averaging a combined 3.0 yards/rush with Bernard Scott generating only 29 yards rushing on 11 carries.
Over the course of the game the Bengals went three-and-out on four different occasions.
During the first possession, Jay Gruden called Cedric Benson's number on three consecutive plays, ending the drive during a one-yard loss on third-and-one. Andre Caldwell was called for offensive pass interference with 1:20 remaining in the first quarter, after hauling in the 16-yard pass, that was allowed through the separation, forcing Andy Dalton to concede the possession with a check-down pass to Andrew Hawkins.
That would become the last three-and-out until the fourth quarter, where the Bengals already held onto a 20-7 lead.
YARDS PASSING: 373 (Week 11 at Baltimore Ravens)
As is the case against many of the team's more recent meetings against intra-division rivals, the Bengals fell behind early but entered the third quarter with a 14-7 deficit.. Now some would argue that Ray Rice's 59-yard third quarter sprint that led to a two-yard score, giving the Ravens a ten-point led, essentially sealed the coffin shut.
Fine. How about Torrey Smith's 38-yard haul from Joe Flacco, the first play following an Andy Dalton interception, extended Baltimore's lead to 17 points?
There wasn't much to take from Cincinnati's week 11 loss to the Ravens. But there was something, continuing a theme that the Bengals in 2011 simply didn't understand the concept of losing, spit at the philosophy to give up. They didn't know any better and it was a trend we'd see for much of the season.
With 11:03 remaining in the fourth quarter, Dalton assaults the Ravens secondary with a 49-yard touchdown to Andre Caldwell, down the right sidelines. Cincinnati's defense forces a three-and-out (on three consecutive Ray Rice runs between the guards) and the Bengals respond with a 10-play, 71-yard drive capped by Mike Nugent's 27-yard field goal with 5:35 remaining in the game (the play after the negated Jermaine Gresham touchdown reception... yes, that one).
Now the score is 31-24.
Again the Bengals forced Baltimore to punt, with 2:39 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Bengals jiggling the two timeout remaining in their pockets.
See the thing about Andy Dalton is that he has a deceptive demeanor that shows conservative nice guy but really becomes aggressive harbinger of secondaries. He completed multiple passes of over 40 yards in the fourth quarter alone, completing 10 of 17 passes for 185 yards passing and a touchdown. For a moment it had a feel of Carson Palmer's fourth quarter comeback in 2004 against the same team.
After getting the ball back with 2:27 remaining in the fourth, Dalton scrambles for nine, dumps off the pass to Andrew Hawkins for 19 followed by an eight-yard pass to Jerome Simpson for eight on the southside of the two minute warning. Now with 1:35 remaining in the game, Dalton takes the shotgun snap with Brian Leonard flanking his right. An intense pass rush penetrates the offensive line and Dalton looked left because that's the vertical route with single-coverage, which dictates a cocked arm followed by an explosive shot down the left sidelines. Jerome Simpson makes an amazing 43-yard reception to the Ravens seven-yard line.
It was not meant to be.
Three consecutive incomplete passes later (including an intention grounding on second down) and the Bengals fail to score following a fourth down Pernell McPhee quarterback sack with :33 seconds remaining.