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Grading the 2011 Bengals: Quarterback

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07:  Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals reacts against the Houston Texans during their 2012 AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Reliant Stadium on January 7, 2012 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals reacts against the Houston Texans during their 2012 AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Reliant Stadium on January 7, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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For the first time since 1969, when the Bengals started rookie Greg Cook out of the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati started a rookie at the quarterback position when the team took the field in the first game of the season. Carson Palmer's trade demand and threat of retirement forced the Bengals' hand in the draft to select a quarterback. They did so in the second round when they picked TCU quarterback Andy Dalton.

Dalton started every game this season and even though he didn't finish two of them he led the Bengals to a 9-7 record and helped them lock up a spot in the playoffs as a wildcard team. Unfortunately, the Benglas weren't able to win their first playoff game in 21 years but the fact that they were there considering they had a rookie quarterback, No. 1 receiver and a rookie offensive coordinator was good enough for most fans.

Andy Dalton finished the season with impressive stats for a starting rookie. He completed 300 of 516 passes for 3,398 yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 80.4 in the regular season. His numbers, and the fact that he helped lead the Bengals to the playoffs, will put him in the conversation for the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year. However, his season is easily divided into two parts.

In the first eight games of the season, things were great for the Bengals and Bengals fans, as well as for Dalton. Dalton had three games in which he had over a 100 passer rating. He threw 12 touchdowns to only seven interceptions and led the Bengals to a 6-2 record. In those first eight games, the Bengals only played three teams who finished with a .500 record or better, the Broncos (8-8), the 49ers (13-3) and the Titans (9-7). The Bengals lost to the Broncos and 49ers.

The last eight games of the season were much different. The Bengals played the Steelers and Ravens twice as well as other good teams. In those eight games, Dalton only had one game in which he had a passer rating of over 100 and threw eight touchdowns and six interceptions. They played six games against teams that had .500 or better records (Steelers, Ravens, Texans and Cardinals) and ended up going 3-5 in those eight games. Dalton struggled against the league's toughest defenses at the end of the year. However, due to Week 17 losses by the Jets and Broncos, the Bengals were able to secure a playoff spot.

They faced the Houston Texans, who beat them in Week 14 by one point, on the road. In the playoffs, Andy Dalton had one of the worst game of his rookie season and as a result, the Bengals lost by a score of 31-10, ending their season. Dalton completed 27 of 42 passes for 257 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions for a passer rating of 51.4.

Dalton has had a good year considering what he walked into. He came to Cincinnati to replace Carson Palmer, who walked away from the Bengals after the 2010 season. He came to Cincinnati in the middle of a lockout, which took away the majority of the offseason practices and he was working with a rookie offensive coordinator. Even though Dalton had some typical rookie struggles throughout the season, it's hard to consider Dalton a rookie. Perhaps his greatest strength this season was his poise. Dalton was able to dust himself off after making a mistake, keep his emotions in check and lead the Bengals to a touchdown on the very next drive. That's something that veteran quarterbacks do, but usually not rookies. His leadership and his poise make me excited for the future in Cincinnati than almost anything else.

Dalton had an impressive season. He succeeded without having the support of an effective running game and through the second half of the season, the defense took a slight nose dive in both run and pass defense. Dalton played well against the poor defenses in the first half of the season and struggled against the better defenses in the second half of the season, but that's the way it should be. He depended too much on his No.1 receiver A.J. Green, but, in his defense, he didn't have a consistent No. 2 receiver on the other side of the field. If Dalton is given a new receiver or two that can be relied on more than Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell and if he has a better running game behind him, the sky's the limit for him.

For what he was able to do in Cincinnati and factoring in the challenges that faced him heading into the season and throughout the season, Dalton, who took the vast majority of the snaps at quarterback this season, has earned himself a grade of B (if you could grade potential, he would get an A).

One thing is for certain, with Dalton under center, the Cincinnati Bengals have a bright future.