The Cincinnati Bengals don't have a storied history of franchise quarterbacks like some teams, such as the Green Bay Packers. However, the team seems to have at least one quarterback worthy of recognition for each decade of existence. Yes, that includes the dismal decade of the 1990s. We take a look at which of the Bengals' 26 all-time starting quarterbacks left the biggest impression on the team.
5. Jeff Blake
As previously mentioned, the Bengals have had a quarterback worthy of recognition in every decade and Jeff Blake was the guy in the ‘90s. Bengals fans were forced to endure one of the worst decades in the history of professional sports in the 1990s, but Jeff Blake was the primary quarterback from 1995-1997, when the team temporarily enjoyed a mediocre period, as opposed to the absolutely dismal period from 1991-1994 and 1998-2002. Under Blake, the team was 32-45, which sounds good when you consider the Bengals were 7-23 without him. And that's including the 1998 season when Blake struggled and Boomer Esiason was brought back to replace him.
Blake managed to put together a Pro Bowl year in 1995, boasting 3,822 passing yards, a 28/17 TD/INT ratio, a 57.5 completion percentage, 238.9 yards per game, and an 82.1 QBR. Blake's 1996 season was almost as good in every category, but problems with consistency derailed his career. Blake was known for throwing, quite possibly, some of the prettiest deep balls in the history of the NFL. Long-time Bengals fans might even remember the Shake 'N Blake song inspired by Blake's exciting 1995 season.
4. Carson Palmer
Love him or hate him, you can't deny that Palmer had talent and played a major role in changing the franchise's fortunes from the historically bad 1992-2002 period. The Bengals selected Palmer with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft after a franchise worst 2-14 season in 2002, and lead the team to their first winning record, first playoff berth in 15 years, and first division title in 15 years after his first full 16 game season starting for the team in 2005. Since leaving the Bengals, Palmer has been a much more consistent producer, but he still gave the team some great years in which he amassed over 22,000 yards passing, 154 touchdowns, and two Pro Bowl seasons.
Many people recognize Carson Palmer as one of the most talented football players to ever come through Cincinnati. But, his lack of leadership and generally poor work ethic and attitude caused him to only once live up to his potential, and ended with him leaving the Queen City on bad terms with the staff and fan base. Say what you want about how injuries might be responsible for his disappointing tenure, but injuries are a part of football, and Palmer tended to drag his feet in rehab.
3. Andy Dalton
This one is sure to ruffle some feathers. As the current franchise quarterback, yet to win a playoff game, Dalton's name alone brings up comments ranging anywhere from undying loyalty to complete and utter hatred. However, when comparing Dalton's stats and record to other Bengals' QBs, it is undeniable he is right in the mix for the top five list. Yes, Andy Dalton has not been good enough come playoff time and has yet to win a playoff game. However, there are only two quarterbacks in franchise history that have won a playoff game for the franchise at all (stay tuned).
The fact of the matter is, in terms of wins, Andy Dalton has never had a losing season in his career. That's impressive, not only considering the team's 4-12 record the season before he was drafted, but also that Dalton's tenure has created the longest winning season and playoff berth streak in franchise history. In terms of stats, Dalton has consistently thrown for over 3,300 yards each season, and has had more touchdowns than interceptions. That's more than most Bengals quarterbacks can say. If Dalton continues to perform at his current level, he will be statistically the best QB in Bengals history. He hasn't yet taken his game to the level that most Bengals fans want to see, but he has certainly gotten closer than all but two of the Bengals' previous starting quarterbacks.
2. Ken Anderson
You could easily make the argument for Ken Anderson as the No.1 quarterback in franchise history on statistics alone. With 32,838 passing yards, a 197/94 TD/INT ratio, and an 81.9 career QBR, Anderson has the kind of credentials that very well could and should land him in the hall of fame one day. Anderson is one of only two quarterbacks in franchise history to win a playoff game, and managed to lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl in the 1981 season. Anderson also earned Most Valuable Player, Offensive Player of the Year, and Comeback Player of the Year honors in that season, winning the infamous Freezer Bowl with ice running through his veins.
Statistically, Andy Dalton could easily catch up to Anderson if he continues to be the team's franchise quarterback throughout his career. However, it was the legendary big performances in big games that separate Anderson and Dalton. When it comes right down to it, the only stats that REALLY matter are in the W/L columns, particularly the W/L columns in the playoffs.
1. Boomer Esiason
From the perspective of winning when it counts, no Bengals' quarterback did it better than Boomer. He is not only one of two Bengals quarterbacks to ever make it to the Super Bowl, but also the only quarterback in Bengals' history to ever win a playoff game in two separate seasons. Unfortunately, due to his occasionally abrasive personality, as well as Mike Brown's inexperience as the team's owner, Boomer was not able to play his entire career in the Queen City.
Boomer's accolades include the most valuable player of the NFL in 1988, a Super Bowl appearance in 1988 that could have been a Super Bowl win were it not for a dropped interception by Lewis Billups. Furthermore, Boomer returned to Cincinnati in 1997 to take over for a struggling Jeff Blake. When Boomer took over the job, he inherited a dismal record of 3-8. But with Boomer the team went 4-1 to finish the season with a 7-9 record. Although Boomer's years in New York and Arizona were generally forgettable, you have to wonder what things would have been like in the 90s had the team worked things out with Boomer and not drafted David Klingler
Out of all of the Bengals' quarterbacks, Boomer probably has the best chance of making it to the hall of fame. This is partially due to his career as a broadcaster, but also because of what he meant to the Bengals. Ken Anderson was an irreplaceable member of the Bengals' original Super Bowl run, but Boomer Esiason was the undisputed master of the play action pass, and may have been even more important to the team's 1988 Super Bowl run than Anderson was to their 1981 run.
Honorable Mention: Greg Cook
There aren't many sadder stories in Bengals' history than that of Greg Cook. Cook was the Bengals' 5th overall selection in 1969, and really should have been the team's first franchise Quarterback. Many have described Cook as having the potential to be the best quarterback that the NFL had ever seen, but Cook tore his rotator cuff in the third game of his career. Due to the lack of medical technology at the time, the condition went undiagnosed for the rest of the season and Cook still earned the AFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
By the time the severity of the injury was realized, the injury had become so severe that Cook’s career was essentially over after only one season. Were it not for the injury, Cook could have been the No. 1 player on this list. Unfortunately, that's just how things go in the NFL.