When the first half concluded and the Cincinnati Bengals were beating the San Diego Chargers 10-7, there was a clam demeanor. No way would they let this lead slip. The defense was too good to blow it and the offense was... efficient. Andy Dalton completed 12 of 17 passes in the first half for 164 yards receiving with a touchdown and a passer rating of 120.7. The running game generated 62 yards rushing with a 4.1 yard/rush average. It had all of the makings for an eventual win.
Instead the Bengals collapsed. After a four-play opening possession in the third quarter, the Chargers pieced together a 10-play drive for 80 yards, scoring a touchdown and taking a 14-10 lead. What happened, defense? Andy Dalton fumbled (without being touched), on Cincinnati's next possession, when he hit the ground during a scramble. Then he threw two interceptions on the ensuing two possessions and now San Diego was leading 20-10. What happened, offense?
Predictably, the three turnovers were, once again, on Dalton (with some applying blame on the offensive line). On Monday, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who is now winless in five playoff games in 11 seasons, offered support with Dalton.
"He had another very good season. He’s progressed well. We need to continue to do things to make his job just easier and easier to do," Lewis said via Bengals.com. "And make sure to continue to be repetitive with what we do for him, and continue to let the players around him continue to get better, and they continue to get better and that’s all we have to work at.
"He’s won big games for us and he’ll continue to win big games. We ask a lot out of him, there’s no doubt about it. He just finished his third season of doing it. I believe in his abilities, I believe in his makeup, I believe in his maturity and I believe in his ability to let the last play go and move on to the next play. That’s probably one of his best attributes along with his abilities."
It's not a surprise that Lewis would cushion his quarterback a little. What's alarming, and this is my perspective, is Dalton's response. After that loss, in which three turnovers changed the complexion of the game for an eventual defeat, Dalton was down. Alright, he should be. But he was really down. Lewis gave him a pep talk and that helped.
"He said that I'm the guy that he believes in," Dalton said early Monday afternoon as he exited the Paul Brown Stadium locker room. "He believes that I can get us over the next hump. It's good to hear from a coach and it's what I wanted to hear."
While the world collapses and the structures of fandom breaks capacity on what Dalton can shoulder, the third-year quarterback reflected the same down-and-out, defeated attitude that must of us have carried around since Sunday.
Not to pile on the kid, but Dalton missed out on an opportunity. Instead of reflecting the attitude of a defeatist, Dalton would could have mitigated some of the issues had he stopped talking about "well, I think I improved" and taken blame. Not just taking blame, but vowing to the city, the NFL, and anyone with receptive ears, that he will fix this. I don't like using the analogy and I'm certainly not a Tim Tebow fan, nor suggesting that Cincinnati should sign him (someone will come that conclusion anyway), but the end of his speech following Florida's loss to Old Miss in 2008 was was awesome.
"I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this. You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. You will never see someone push the rest of the team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season." "You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season."
Can you imagine had Dalton done something like that? He would have won a lot of fans back, even the day after losing to the San Diego Chargers. Maybe not win. Maybe a pause with an "alright."
Instead he mirrored the same reflection that you feel.
I hope this kid can use this moment, build on it and charge into 2014 with a chip and anger. I know, it's not in his persona, so it might be a wasted belief. He had a decent year -- you don't break franchise records otherwise. The big games are still a big problem. But I genuinely hope that he can become the franchise quarterback that this team needs.
But when he had an opportunity to inspire, motivate and lead with a vow to make it work, he didn't. He reiterated that coach likes him and that made him happy.