Before Thursday, the last time Andy Dalton played the Browns in primetime was an absolute disaster.
The Bengals were embarrassed at home as they lost 24-3, and a big reason why was Dalton having the worst game of his five-year NFL career. He had just 10 completions in 33 attempts, 86 passing yards, three interceptions, and a 2.0 passer rating.
Yeah. it was a game to forget, and clearly was one Dalton did forget as he lit up the Browns this time around under the bright lights with the whole world watching his three touchdown performance.
"I wasn't focused on what had happened last year," Dalton said after the 31-10 win over Cleveland. "Was it in the back of my mind? Yes. Absolutely. It was the exact same circumstance last year. Thursday night. We were even in the black uniforms. It was even the Salute to Service game. There was so much that was so similar to last year."
This is a new and improved Dalton.
"I wasn't worried about what happened last year because I feel like I'm in such a better place and such a better player this year than I was last year. So, it feels good to be sitting here now, rather than how I was last year."
Dalton entered Thursday's game with 11 career passing touchdowns vs 11 interceptions in primetime games. But on this night, he finished 21-of-27 passing for 234 yards, three touchdowns, no turnovers and a passer rating of 139.8. That was the second-highest rating of Dalton's career and the first time he's thrown for three scores in a primetime game.
A big reason why Dalton was able to achieve success this time around was tight end Tyler Eifert being in the lineup. Eifert finished the game with a career-high three touchdown grabs as he accounted for all of Dalton's scoring passes.
"I’m happy for him," Dalton said of Eifert. "To come back from the injury last year and to get him playing really well and playing at a high level, it’s been a lot of fun to see him out there, and he definitely helps this team win."
Dalton also finished this game with an 85.3 QBR, putting his season total at 77.6, good for fourth best of any NFL quarterback. He's 4.3 points ahead of fifth-place's Tom Brady and 6.8 points behind Carson Palmer for first place.
Through eight games now, Dalton is completing 67.4 percent of his passes for 2,226 yards with 18 touchdowns vs just four interceptions. His play is a big reason why Cincinnati is 8-0, but he knows he'll have to keep it up for this team to keep winning.
"To put ourselves in the position that we’re in and to stay undefeated, there’s not a lot of teams that have been 8-0 before, and we understand that. We know it’s something that’s hard to do, but we’ve got to keep pushing and keep the same mentality that we’ve had for the first half of the season and do whatever we can to keep winning these games in the second half."
As long as Dalton keeps playing the way he has, there's no reason to doubt the Bengals' ability to keep winning and vying for one of the top two seeds in the AFC, a first-round bye, and maybe even homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.