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Bengals vs Jets: Andy Dalton gets right back to top form in season opener

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We’ve had to wait quite some time to watch Andy Dalton play in a meaningful NFL game, but his performance on Sunday made it worth it. The Bengals’ signal-caller is in similar form to we saw last season.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at New York Jets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, we saw Andy Dalton unleash his full potential. He led the Bengals to an incredible 8-0 start, dominated fantasy point rankings and he forced himself into the MVP conversation for the better part of the season. But when he suffered a brutal thumb injury in December, his breakout season came crashing down. Ever since then, Bengals fans have been eager to see Dalton play in a real game and show once again how good of a quarterback he can be for Cincinnati.

On Sunday afternoon, Dalton made his regular-season return, and he overcame a brutal attack from the New York Jets’ defensive line to show that he’s ready to pick up where he left off last season. Though his ups and downs were a microcosm of the entire day for the Bengals, Dalton made many high-quality plays to propel his team to a win.

Despite the fact that he struggled early on, completing just 3-of-7 passes for 77 yards (54 coming on one pass to C.J. Uzomah), as well as being sacked twice, Dalton really turned it around for the last three quarters of the game. He put up a total of 366 passing yards on 23/30 passing with one touchdown and a passer rating of 114.0 on his way to engineering a comeback win.

This success came despite the fact that the Jets’ front seven made life rough for Dalton, sacking him seven times for -42 yards. It’s the most Dalton has ever been sacked in a single game as a pro quarterback, playing into the notion of his positive performance on Sunday. Despite the constant pressure, Dalton put up his 18th career 300-yard game and his touchdown bomb to A.J. Green helped lead the Bengals to the 23-22 victory.

Seeing Dalton play this well allows us to breathe a sigh of relief. Dalton lost two of his top targets in Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in free agency, while also losing the offensive coordinator that almost everyone credited the Bengals’ offensive success to in 2015: Hue Jackson.

Given those personnel losses, it wasn’t a certainty that the Bengals would get the same caliber of quarterback they had last year. However, Ken Zampese has done a great job of continuing some of Jackson’s play patterns that succeeded, as we saw plenty of quick short passes that went for good yardage.

It’s certain that if Dalton is to continue to succeed, he’ll be feeding A.J. Green quite a bit, which he did on Sunday. It’s also a certainty that the offensive line can’t continue to have performances like the one we saw in Week 1 for him to continue his quality play. Regardless the dynamic quarterback-receiver duo connected 12 times for 180 yards and Dalton’s an epic 54-yard touchdown pass against Pro Bowl cornerback, Darrelle Revis.

Dalton also made use of one of his new targets, Brandon LaFell. LaFell is one of the few receivers on the team with any level of extensive pro experience, so he’ll be relied on a lot in this offense this year. That showed today as he was the “big play” target of sorts, catching four passes for 91 yards, with an average of 22.8 yards-per-catch. And aside from his two biggest targets, Dalton also found C.J. Uzomah for big yardage, as Uzomah had 2 catches for 59 yards, and one of those two catches went for 54.

Dalton is utilizing his new weapons, as evident by his capitalizing on quick pass setups, and playing just as well as he did last year, despite the issues of his surrounding cast Sunday afternoon. I can only imagine how much better this performance would have been had Dalton not found himself sacked seven times.

Hopefully he’ll will continue to play this well, and rack up more 300-yard games week-in and week-out. Furthermore, more help from the running game and improved play from the offensive line are things Cincinnati could certainly use against Pittsburgh next week.