The ever-persistent narrative that Andy Dalton doesn’t show up in primetime or big games, will continue to haunt him, likely until he can win a playoff game. But, on Thursday night, Dalton led his team to a primetime win on Thursday Night Football.
In his first five years as the Cincinnati Bengals’ starting quarterback, the Bengals had won only four of their 13 games in primetime. But, in Thursday’s nationally televised game against the Dolphins, he played like the high-level quarterback that he has proven he can be at times, but has not always shown in big games.
Against the Dolphins, Dalton recorded 22 completions on 31 attempts for 296 yards and a touchdown. That was good for a quarterback rating of 111.8. For reference, the last two times Dalton has played in primetime, he wasn’t effective enough to lead the Bengals to a victory over the Houston Texans, a game during which he recorded a quarterback rating of 61.0. And against the Arizona Cardinals, the Bengals again couldn’t do enough in their Sunday Night Football loss and while Dalton had a respectable quarterback rating of 99.8, the defense fell apart on the last drive, allowing the Cardinals to kick a game winning field goal with a minute remaining on the clock.
For the most part, performances in primetime from Dalton have been mostly like the Texans game in 2015. But, he stepped up on Thursday in a game his Bengals desperately needed to win after starting the season 1-2. He didn’t make any critical mistakes that have plagued him in the past in big games and was electrifying when moving the ball down the field.
In particular, it was his ability to utilize many of his available offensive weapons that allowed the Bengals to dominate time of possession and snap count, allowing them to dictate the pace of the game.
To be fair, it was an absolutely mesmerizing day from A.J. Green. He caught 10 of the 12 passes thrown his way for a total of 173 yards and this awesome touchdown play:
But, let’s not let Green’s performance take away from just how masterful a performance Dalton had. In particular, Dalton found Green and got him the ball on great passes that went exactly where they needed to go like this:
In addition to threading the needle to Green on multiple occasions, Dalton did a fantastic job of distributing the ball to his other offensive weapons. He completed passes to C.J. Uzomah and Brandon LaFell four times each, Giovani Bernard three times, and even once to Tyler Boyd. It’s heads up plays like this one that really show the kind of pocket and downfield awareness that Dalton has flashed and developed over the years.
As we have seen far too many times this season, Dalton’s pass protection is starting to breakdown on this play. Under the pressure of past primetime games, he has had a bad habit of getting flustered and taking the sack instead of stepping up and finding the open man. In this case, he saw an opening, ran through it, only to find a wide open C.J. Uzomah on the other side. Those are the kind of plays you expect from a quarterback who was in the MVP discussion before getting hurt last year.
The one knock against Dalton this week is, obviously, the lack of efficiency in the red zone. Against the lowly Dolphins, the Bengals could afford to settle for five field goals throughout the game. The previously discussed touchdown from Dalton to Green was the only touchdown of the game, despite the Bengals controlling possession for an astounding 38 minutes and 2 seconds over the course of the game.
Getting Tyler Eifert back into the fold (hopefully) next week should dramatically improve the team’s red zone performance. But, it was somewhat worrisome to see an offense that realistically could have put up over 50 points on the day only put up 22.
However, those are trends for the coaching staff to worry about. The bottom line is, Dalton led the Bengals to a very impressive performance over the Miami Dolphins this week, with the team desperately needing a confidence boost, in primetime.
Going forward, the Bengals have four more primetime games against the Redskins, Giants, Steelers, and Texans, all in the second half of the season. In all games, but in those games especially, the Bengals will be hoping to see more of the Dalton we saw on Thursday, as opposed to the traditional primetime version we saw in Dalton’s first five seasons.