This is a long post that took a lot of time. I would ask out of respect for that that you read through it in it's entirety prior to commenting or please reserve your comment, as premature comments can diminish the conversation in the comments section.
I would like to start by saying that I'm not telling anyone how they should watch the game of football or interpret what they see when they do. I intend to make the argument that giving Dalton support as the starting QB of the football serves a lot more good than doubting him, in terms of the player, team, and a sense of personal well being for the fan.
Now, I did watch this game along with the Steelers game, where Dalton has struggled against two very good defenses. That is a terrible way to end the season, and go out of the playoffs yet again. However, I would argue the reason that it's so frustrating is because there were games where he has had flashes and even whole games that reveal his potential. The fact that his first two years as a starting QB in the NFL has resulted in playoff appearances should be taken into consideration just as much as the fact that they playoff games were losses.
I would like to start by noting some QBs that took some time to grow into their roles. Of course the obvious example is Drew Brees, who members of this site and others have compared him with, and is a good example of why not to give up on a QB too early.
I'm sure everyone has heard the comparison between the two, but one story is written while the other remains to be seen, which is a huge difference. Regardless, the Chargers gave up on Brees early, drafted a lesser QB with a very high draft pick that could have helped Brees win while on the Chargers, and the rest is history. I won't go much further into this as I'm not into reading the tea leaves of what could have been for the Chargers or Brees if the situation was any different, nor will I do so with Dalton. Comparatively speaking, neither of them came into their own by the second year. Needless to say, Brees grew into his own in his 3rd year. Matt Ryan took a little longer. Some top QBs never ran into criticism and blossomed into their potential with ease. Of course all of the busts one can think of ate criticism for breakfast.
In the end, many, many QBs never pan out. For every Manning or Brady there are probably 10 QBs that go through some sort of starting QB role only to watch the team scrap the project and start over from the drawing board. Teams struggle at the bottom of the league trying to find that guy that changes their fortunes for the next decade or so, spending pick after pick, often high picks, to get a glimpse of what Dalton has shown in his first two seasons. It often takes a long time to climb out of this. Even the guy with all the potential in the world, the franchise savior doesn't pan out as often as people like to think. Letting go of what we have in potential is not a wise move, as we would only be swapping for different potential solutions and wasting time and resources doing so. If an overtly obvious better choice was staring us in the face then we would probably have go that route. Outside of Jonny Manziel being allowed to declare for the draft while the Bengals are on the board, nothing strikes me as a markedly better path to pursue at this juncture.
The other part of this how the fans and media affect a QB's career. For this, the most glaring recent and glaring example is Mark Sanchez.
I don't intend to compare skill sets, but I do hope to try and parallel their mind sets. The position of QB in the NFL has a lot to do with how the QB's mind is just as much or even more valuable than the skill set they bring to the table. This is especially true in the cases of Dalton and Sanchez, where they don't have overwhelming skills (though this does not exclude cases like Couch, Leaf, Leinart and J. Russell). Some would argue that Sanchez came into the league with more "raw potential" than Dalton. He was also very young and full of confidence. When the team made it to the championship game two years in a row, the fans were saying that they were doing it in spite of him, not because of him. Questions arose and while his play did not warrant answers one way or the other. He was expected to take on more responsibility in his 3rd year while his team got weaker around him (particularly on the O-line, defense and the locker room deteriorated). One season after things didn't improve to the fans' and media's satisfaction, Tebow was brought in which was a direct blow to Sanchez's confidence, no matter what he or anyone else says. The media and fans took hold of everything that was happening, chewed Sanchez up and spit him out. He will likely never start for a football team again, save the Jets if they keep him for one more miserable season. Good luck with that.
Every QB in the league who is playing at a tremendous level has his mind "in a good space" I would say. The fans and media largely influence this. Of course there are other factors that influence this, namely the team and organization around them, but I would argue that this in particular is the one aspect that fans have some direct or indirect (in terms of the what the media gets ratings out of) control of.
Finally, and maybe it's because I am an optimist, I've never understood the logic of rooting against questionable players on your own team. I fully admit that this is my least stable point, as I do not intend to tell other people how to view their world. I would question what being negative about your team's players who are either going to get better or fall off the map gets you. Dalton will not be replaced this offseason barring a miracle Tom Brady/Russell Wilson pick, so I don't think that's a realistic argument. Getting disappointed about them NOT making a move when the choice is predetermined (and everyone here should be aware that there's a 99%+ chance that Dalton is the starting QB on opening day next season, barring injury of course) seems to only serve negative feelings. Thinking Dalton will suck when he actually rises to a great QB seems like it would waste months, at the least, of being negative. Being right that he sucks when he does gives you the right to say "I told you so", but #1 no one cares that you called that and #2 doesn't seem like a great personal victory all things considered.
As Bengals fans I understand there are lots of reasons to be angry at everything about the team for all of the hurt it has caused you. If this new era, spearheaded by a young foundation to what could be a potent offense, doesn't at least make you consider WHY you're being negative then it might be time to reflect on what you are doing and the purpose it serves. If the reasons are because you are keeping distance from the pain (or "shadow" manifestations for those Jungians), it is understandable. I would, however, ask that you pause and consider the effects that shouting your opinion from the rooftops has on the community here, the media, the fan base as a whole and ultimately the players themselves. The season ended on a sour note, as it does for all who lose in the playoffs. Had Dalton been playing like he was just a month ago and we still lost, we would be singing a different song about somewhere else to place blame. Yes, the defenses were different when he was playing well. So was the fact that he had another reliable target to catch the ball, which I think makes all the difference. We could go around and around on these points all off season. One way or another, he showed what he can do when his head is in a good space.
I still believe we haven't seen the best from Dalton, and given the right circumstances he could develop into one of the best in the league. I also know there are a lot of people who currently don't share this belief. In reality, Andy Dalton is at a crossroads. Neither side can convincingly claim to the other that he has crossed the threshold either way. In this day and age of instant information, I only ask that you consider the effects of broadcasting your doubts and castigations. I think we can be better than the Jets and the Eagles fan bases, who I believe in some part contributed to the collapse of quality teams as a manifestation of their negativity.
We are better than we were this time last year and we were better that year than we were the one before. Meanwhile the division is getting worse. The Steelers' age, medicore drafts and salary cap issues are catching up to them. The Ravens don't look the same without Lewis running the show either. I do think the Bengals are capable of becoming the team to beat in the AFC north for years to come. This offseason will be crucial, not just how the front office operates and how players improve, but how the fans handle themselves as well. This team, as well as the fanbase has a chance to grow and become a source of positive inspiration. Regardless of your beliefs, I would hope that we can encourage this and not let a couple of bad games determine the course of the franchise.