For all of the great moments that Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has had this year, namely in the categories of wins and single-season passing records for a Bengals quarterback, sticking with him going forward is a scary proposition for the Bengals. This team and its owner, Mike Brown, have been desperate to find the elusive formula for a team that can consistently win. Dalton gives them the chance to be competitive and a playoff contender every season--the same can be said with head coach Marvin Lewis. However, with both of those men as the leaders of this team, there is no evidence contradicting the fact that they will continue to hit that postseason brick wall.
Dalton is this era's Chad Pennington. For those unfamiliar with who I am referencing, Pennington was a mid-first round pick in 2000 out of Marshall University by the New York Jets. Gang Green had struggled from 1990-2001, getting only three postseason berths before Pennington took over as the starter. Though oft-injured, he led the Jets to three playoff seasons in six years as the starter. For a team that had such a postseason drought, Pennington's regular season performances were a sight for sore eyes.
However, Pennington was 2-4 in the playoffs (including one appearance in 2009 as the Dolphins' starter) and never made it past the divisional round. He had eight touchdowns and eight interceptions in the postseason, which was a major reason for the lack of success in the single-elimination tournament. His arm strength was always called into question, as was the conservative offensive game plan that was created to suit his needs. Pennington was a regular season hero, but withered in the playoffs.
I decided to conduct an interesting research project on Dalton. I looked at his record against teams that he has played just once, as opposed to his record against teams who have seen him more than one time. I counted 15 games that Dalton has played only once and 18 games that he has seen more than one time. In the career games (including the postseason) against teams that Dalton has faced only one time, the Bengals quarterback is 12-3. In games against foes who have seen him more than once, Dalton is 10-8. I view this as an indictment of trends that Dalton shows on tape, as well as the consistent game plans that Jay Gruden must make to cater to his quarterback.
I have a friend that has told me that "Dalton is the perfect quarterback for the Bengals. He's just good enough to win and get them to the playoffs, but they will never sniff a conference title game or a Super Bowl with him". I used to shrug it off, thinking that he was wrong and that Dalton could be the knight in shining armor that the Bengals need. After watching him stumble his way through three turnovers on Sunday, I'm finally convinced that my friend was right. What's worse is that everyone should worry about a confidence issue with Dalton in these big games going forward because of his consistent failures in them.
People are blinded by his 30 regular season wins after taking the reigns of the team after the Carson Palmer debacle. I can't blame those who defend Dalton because of what he's done since 2011, but the collective heads and shoulders of the players in that Bengals locker room have to feel the ceiling that comes with Lewis as the head coach and Dalton as the quarterback. They have been hitting it for the past season or so now.
The head coach and quarterback are what take you to the promised land in the NFL. Another friend of mine (a 49ers fan) told me at the onset of the playoffs that "the Bengals are good enough to beat anybody this year. I just don't trust their quarterback or their coach and that's why they probably won't go far". Boy was he right. Ouch.
Objective fans outside of our little world see it, but the Bengals' brain trust doesn't. Management is too desperate to maintain some semblance of continuity and will not roll the dice on starting over from scratch and potentially entering the Dark Ages of the 1990s. I understand where they are coming from on that front, but it leads the Bengals to stay in the midst of this warped playoff limbo that has become an annual tradition.
Sometimes a coach's message gets stale and going into his 12th season, this might be the case with Lewis. I understand management's desire to keep continuity on its staff, a la the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Bengals have hit cruise control. A new message is needed, one where accountability is the norm and preparation for big moments is a must. The deer-in-the-headlights look on faces and apathetic play by the team in huge games has to disappear if the team's bar is truly set at winning championships.
The fact remains that both Lewis and Dalton have a year left on their respective contracts with the club and they will get to see those through. Dalton said on Monday that Lewis told him that he's "his guy", so that is seemingly that for 2014. So, even with the mixed feelings on these two going forward, they will be getting another chance thanks to the cautious approach by Brown and Co. I'm not the guy who rushes to get the pitchforks and torches for a witch hunt, but where there is smoke, there is fire. The record is scratched and is stuck on the same line over and over again. Move on.
Lewis and Dalton provide Cincinnati with winning football--it just isn't Championship football.