This wasn't the kind of game Andy Dalton envisioned, nor did it feature anything close to his level of play in his first six games.
Coming into this game, the Bengals were 8-13-1 (including the playoffs) in games in which Dalton threw two or more interceptions. Even worse was that Cincinnati was just 8-16 (including playoffs) in games during which Dalton had a passer rating of 67 or lower.
All of this was the case on this day in Pittsburgh as Dalton completed just 23-of-38 passes (61-percent) for 231 yards (with a season-low 6.1 yards per attempt) with one touchdown vs two interceptions for a 64.7 passer rating. Since becoming the Bengals' starting quarterback, it's been a rare occurrence that the Bengals won a game in which Dalton played as bad as he did against Pittsburgh.
Dalton has carried this team through large chunks of their undefeated schedule. That was on display late in this one after the offense had been an all-around disaster for 3.5 quarters. Dropped passes, bad offensive line play and penalty after penalty crippled this unit for much of the game, and it didn't help that Dalton threw a crucial red-zone interception in the fourth quarter.
That play could have killed the Bengals, but as head coach Marvin Lewis said, he knew Dalton was capable of bouncing back.
"He anticipated what didn’t happen," Lewis said. "He let go of one he tried to get back. That’s the way Andy has always been his entire career. He’s going to forget that, come right back and go to the next drive. He has a great demeanor that way. That’s one of his great traits."
That pick was on Dalton, but he responded during the next drive with a great deep strike to Green that was dropped and deflected into the air before Mike Mitchell picked it off. It was a great throw that Green should have caught and used to put the Bengals in Steelers' territory. Instead, Pitt got the ball back with a chance to run down the clock.
Dalton believe his mentality through each game has helped the Bengals win even when the situations weren't easy. "You can’t get too high when things are going good and too low when things are going bad," Dalton said after the game. "We stayed the course of the game. Eventually, something was going to work and it did."
"That’s why you play four quarters—I said that a lot this year," Dalton said after the game. "The defense kept getting stops and we had chances to put it in there. Eventually we were going to score a touchdown and we did. We did enough to get it in there. The defense played great, this is a big team win."
Fortunately, that second interception was followed up by the defense forcing a turnover. That's when Dalton led the Bengals to a game-winning touchdown drive. Dalton went 4-for-5 on that drive and threw a three-yard touchdown to Green to put the Bengals up 13-10 and give them the lead for the first time in the game.
"They tried to show one coverage and run out," Dalton said of the touchdown. "There was enough room to throw it to him. He did a good job of catching it and getting north to the end zone. It’s a play that you have to have at that point in the game. We had the opportunity, and we made it."
He didn't play great in this one, but Dalton was great when the Bengals needed him most. Even had the Bengals lost this game though, you could not have placed the majority of the blame on Dalton. The entire offense played a big role in this team having just six points through the first three quarters, but they all came together when it mattered and added to the Bengals' undefeated record.
"I think at the end of the day we have found ways to win in different ways," Dalton said. "We’ve had to come back in games; we’ve done whatever it takes. That’s just kind of our mentality. The focus is one game at a time; however, we can do it and we did that today."