Andy Dalton led a fourth quarter comeback in Pittsburgh, giving the Bengals a 16-10 win over the Steelers, dropping them to 4-4 on the season while the Bengals are now 7-0. That sounds nice, doesn't it? For highlights and analysis of Dalton's clutch game-winning play, watch the following video:
Dalton was 23/38 for 231 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. He ran six times for four yards and was sacked three times for a total loss of 13 yards. Dalton's QB rating was 64.7 and his QBR 27.9.
Dalton's numbers were by far his worst this season. Making matters worse, both his interceptions came in the fourth quarter. The first was on a pass intended for Marvin Jones, was picked off in the endzone and returned 42 yards by Antwon Blake. The second one was essentially a punt, as the Bengals were backed up on their own nine yard line on 3rd and 25 and the pass was intercepted at Pittsburgh's 27 yard line. However, the Steelers struggled to move the ball and neither one of the turnovers were turned into points.
What happened next speaks volumes about Dalton's confidence. After nearly costing his team the game in a huge division showdown, Dalton calmly led the Bengals to their only touchdown of the contest. On that second-to-last drive (the last drive consisted of Jeremy Hill trying to run the clock down), Dalton was 3/4 for 40 yards and the touchdown to Green. In a season in which Dalton has averaged 8.6 yards per attempt, he played it safe, as none of his completions even made it 10 yards down the field. However, the fifth year quarterback knew precisely what he was doing.
Let's take a look at that touchdown pass. Dalton actually sets it up by staring down Green, the only receiver on the left side of the field.
This made corner William Gay think Dalton was going to throw a lob to Green. Gay immediately ran toward the left corner of the endzone. Thus, he was out of position when Dalton threw a quick slant to Green, who cut inside for the score.
The Bengals won't really get a chance to celebrate what may prove to be the nail in the coffin for their biggest threat in the AFC North. Instead, they must prepare for a home game against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday. In week 8, the Browns led the Arizona Cardinals 20-10 after the first half. And Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald turned the ball over a combined four times. But the Browns still lost the game due to a poor second half in which they were shut out on offense and gave up 24 points to the Cardinals. They also lost cornerback Joe Haden and safety Donte Whitner to concussions against Arizona. Now the Browns will most likely face Green, Jones and Tyler Eifert without half of their starters in the secondary.
But while things seem to be working in the Bengals' favor, the battle of Ohio is hardly ever predictable. The week 9 contest will essentially be the one year anniversary of the last time the Bengals played on a Thursday (November 6, 2014). That was also a home game against Cleveland. And as many of us (unfortunately) remember, Dalton arguably had the worst game of his career in a shocking 24-3 loss (10/33, 86 yards, 0 touchdowns, 3 interceptions).
Slightly downward. While the numbers would suggest a more precipitous drop, Dalton got it done when it mattered most. He recognized that the analysts were wrong-- there would be no shootout in this fight in the black and blue division. So, unlike his counterpart at QB (Ben Roethlisberger), Dalton led a steady - though unspectacular - drive late in the game to put the Bengals up 13-10 on the touchdown to Green. Roethlisberger, meanwhile, continued to fire recklessly downfield and cost his team the game with his third interception, which came with under three minutes left.
And while Dalton was off target on a few of his throws, expect him to return to his prolific ways in the next game. All the negativity in the offseason has motivated him to prove the haters wrong. And last year's home loss to the Browns was the source of a lot of that hate. Expect Dalton to be fired up and finally put an end to the talk of Cincinnati's primetime failures.