Andy Dalton is off to the best start of his five-year NFL career, and his teammates and coaches have taken notice.
Through three games, Dalton is completing what would be a career-high 66.3-percent of his passes if he finishes the season with that mark. He's also tossed eight touchdowns vs just one interception while rushing for a score as well. His 84 QBR is currently the fourth best of any QB and would shatter his previous season-high of 56.8.
Dalton's 7.8 Pro Football Focus rating is the sixth best of any QB. His 121 passer rating is the second best, just ahead of Patriots QB and future hall-of-famer Tom Brady and behind only Aaron Rodgers, whom most consider the best in the game.
That's the kind of company Dalton wants to hear his named mentioned with, as he told Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
"You get compared to guys like Peyton, who's 39, Brady who's 38, Rodgers who's 31," Dalton said. "There's that next group that's got to come up and that's kind of what I'm part of. My goal is to be like one of those guys whenever that time comes."
Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has seen that drive out of Dalton.
"He's extremely competitive and wants to be the best no matter what it is, but he's not going to come out and just make it all about him," Kirkpatrick said. "He's extremely humble. But he does want to be the best at whatever he's doing and I think a lot of guys don't have that."
Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson sees the change as well with Dalton being a year into this offensive system, which has him on pace for his best year as a pro.
"He's different," Jackson said. "I think he's another year in the system. I think he's comfortable. I think he's comfortable with me. I think he's comfortable with his teammates. He now knows it's time for him to take the next step in his process. I think that's what he's doing."
Dalton taking that next step is the key for this team nont only winning the AFC North, but winning multiple playoff games after not getting even one to this point. This team is built to win games with their defense and ground game. As we saw last week though, there are going to be times Dalton has to win games, and he looks as capable of doing so as ever.
Interesting nugget from the #Bengals: Andy Dalton leads the AFC in fourth-quarter passer rating (147.5) and third-down passer rating (123.5)— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) September 29, 2015
Dalton has thrown three combined fourth-quarter touchdowns in the past two games, a 24-19 win over the Chargers and last week's 28-24 thriller vs the Ravens. This is simply as good as Dalton has ever looked, and that's why expectations for this Bengals team continue to grow each week.