Andy Dalton played his worst game of the season on Sunday, going 24 of 43 on passing attempts for a 55.8 percent completion rate against the Bills. He had 1 passing touchdown, 2 interceptions and 1 rushing touchdown. Dalton amassed his lowest quarterback rating of the season, a 57.0. On a most positive note (at least for his health) Dalton was only sacked one time, and it came on the first play of the game.
Once A.J. Green was injured on the first drive of the game, Dalton had to find different receivers to connect with and Tyler Boyd proved to be his favorite weapon on the day. Boyd finally scored his first NFL touchdown and caught 6 passes for 54 yards.
“Some of the things were designed with the looks we had. He was going to be the one getting the ball,” Dalton said of Boyd’s impact once Green went down. “He did a good job and made a great play on the touchdown. I thought he got into a good rhythm and was doing well.”
As for the other wide receivers, Brandon LaFell had 4 catches for 32 yards, James Wright had 2 catches for 22 yards and Alex Erickson had 1 catch for 7 yards. Ironically enough, Brandon Tate was the Bills’ leading receiver with 2 catches for 48 yards.
But, Green’s absence in the game is as big of an absence as the Bengals could have (save for Dalton) and it was felt.
“You never want to lose a guy like that,” Dalton said following the game. “He’s the best receiver in the league, so when you lose him, it hurts you. The next guy has to step up and get the job done.”
Boyd was that guy, but, he couldn’t replace Green in a meaningful way. On the final play of the game, when Dalton threw a Hail Mary for the third time in four games, it fell incomplete and the game ended.
“They were playing soft coverage and taking away things in the deeper zones. I kept dumping it off to try to get it down there,” Dalton said of the final drive. “It was a just a Hail Mary at that point.”
One player who should have been expected to step up, but did not, was Tyler Eifert. Without Green, the Bills were able to cover Eifert more effectively and the Bengals tight end had only 3 catches for 37 yards. That came on six targets. You’d hope not only that Eifert could be more impactful when needed, but also that Dalton would throw him the ball with more frequency with Green off-the-field.
“It depends on what kind of coverages we’re getting to the plays that are being called,” Dalton said of Eifert’s lack of targets. “With the plays that were being called and the different things, it just wasn’t his day today.”
The Bengals’ playoff hopes should be dead, but Dalton does believe the division is still within grasp.
“You still look at the division and everything is still out in front of us,” he said. “We have to find a way to play the best we can these next six weeks. At the end of the day, we just have to get it done. I don’t think there’s anything else to say about it. We have to find a way to be playing our best at that point in the game.”
It will be incredibly difficult for the Bengals to play their best football without Green and Giovani Bernard (whose season is done), but you have to admire Dalton for maintaining hope.