On top of various chemistry problems, injuries, and everything else that went wrong, the Cincinnati Bengals simply did not win games very often in 2016. The team finished 6-9-1, which was the first time in Andy Dalton’s career, spanning back to college and high school, where his team did not turn in a winning record. In 2017, returning to winning ways is of the utmost importance.
“I think that’s the most important stat,” Dalton said at his first press conference of the offseason. “We need to get back to what we were doing and win when it matters.”
A big reason things went so poorly in 2016 was the massive amounts of turnover the team went through in the offseason. In 2017, the core of the roster has learned from that experience and the team is working toward building chemistry early on. Plus, a few dynamic players have been added into the mix to help improve the roster.
“We’ve got the core of our guys back, and we’ve got a couple guys who can help us,” Dalton said. “So it’s a new year, another year of experience for everybody. I said last year there was a lot of stuff that was new, obviously with Zamp (offensive coordinator Ken Zampese) taking over at coordinator and with a couple new receivers being out there. We really don’t have that this year. Guys understand what we are trying to do.”
Continuity is something that fosters a winning environment. It is the reason why organizations like the New England Patriots are so successful, and why organizations like the Cleveland Browns as so unsuccessful. For Dalton, it is a big reason why he has been a winner so consistently throughout his football life.
“Shoot, when I was in junior high, I was running the same plays as high school. I think that’s just Texas high school football for you. The continuity has been huge,” Dalton said. “You see some of these guys who come in at the same point in their careers, let’s say like mine at seven years, and they’ve had three or four different head coaches or a new offensive coordinator every single year. That could make it tough on a career for guys. I’ve been blessed that hasn’t really happened, except that we have had some different coordinators. But that’s always been a hire from within, which has kept things similar. That’s a big part of what I’ve been able to do.”
As far as winners go, there aren’t many who do it with the consistency Dalton has throughout much of his career. In fact, prior to 2016, the closest he had previously come to a losing record was still a respectable one.
“If we’re talking football, it was probably freshman year (in college),” Dalton said. “We were (8-5) ... We hadn’t come close to either .500 or a losing season.”
Arguably, the worst season Dalton had before last year was his first season with the Bengals, 2011. That year, the Bengals finished 9-7 and barely qualified for the No. 6 wild card seed in the playoffs. Then again, the Bengals were expected to be the worst team in the NFL that year, bar none. Some even predicted Cincinnati would go 0-16 in Dalton’s rookie year.
To nearly everyone, managing to finish with a winning record and a playoff berth was seen as a huge surprise at the time. Then again, Dalton was used to winning and likely expected similar results in 2011. For that reason, the extremely poor results were very different for a player who was so used to winning. And Dalton and the rest of the Bengals are looking toward the future, learning from the team’s losing season and working to make sure a winning season is in the team’s future.
“It felt different. There’s something you can take from last year, and things to go back and look at to see what you could have done different,” Dalton said. “This was what this whole offseason has been for, to see what was done well and what we didn’t do good. We need to getting better at things we do well and really improve on things we didn’t do well on. This offseason has been good for us.”
This offseason, the Bengals brought in a total of 30 new players through the draft and free agency. Given the poor results of 2016, the massive influx of talent was extremely important to fostering better results in 2017. The Bengals also lost a few key starters in Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler, and Domata Peko. But, the losses shouldn’t be nearly as crippling as the ones suffered in the 2016 offseason.
This year, the Bengals will attempt to enjoy the luxury of continuity, while learning from the past. That will hopefully lead to Dalton and the Bengals returning to their winning ways.