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Andy Dalton vs. Cam Newton: Battle of the 2011 quarterback draft class

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The Cincinnati Bengals are looking to start 3-0 for the sixth time since 1990. In doing so, Andy Dalton will square off against his quarterback classmate from the 2011 NFL Draft.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Andy Dalton and Cam Newton have a few things in common. They’re quarterbacks. They’re Americans. Oh, and they entered the NFL at the same time.

Newton was drafted first overall, and for good reason. He won the Heisman Trophy (besting Andrew Luck), Maxwell Award (best all-around player), Walter Camp Award (collegiate player of the year), Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback), Manning Award (also best quarterback), and was named the AP College Football Player of the Year.

Newton also earned first-team awards as an All-American from the Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp, CBS Sports, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Scout.com, Rivals.com, and the Sporting News. Newton’s final collegiate season culminated with an Auburn victory at the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, helping break a 19-19 tie with a 73-yard drive and a game-winning field goal as time expired.

Who else would you draft first overall? Von Miller, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Tyson Smith, J.J. Watt? They are all quality players that deserve praise, but Newton entered the draft with significant accolades.

The being said, the first-round quarterback class that year fell flat:

Jake Locker (selected by the Titans 8th overall): Currently retired after four seasons in Tennessee, concluding that “Football has always played a pivotal role in my life and I love the game, but I no longer have the burning desire necessary to play the game for a living.”

  • Blaine Gabbert (selected by the Jaguars 10th overall): Traded from the Jaguars to the 49ers after his third season. With a 2017 pitstop in Arizona, Gabbert is backing up Marcus Mariotta in Tennessee. In the 46 games he’s started in his career, Gabbert’s teams have only won 12. Oh and he threw two passes on the same play last week, so that was neat.
  • Christian Ponder (selected by the Vikings No. 12 overall): Spent four seasons with the Vikings and made stops in Oakland, Denver, and San Francisco. He’s been out of the NFL since 2016. Mostly known for being Samantha Ponder’s husband.

Seven quarterbacks were selected after Dalton, with names like Colin Kaepernick (next quarterback picked after Dalton), Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates (shudders), and Tyrod Taylor. Of the 12 quarterbacks selected during the 2011 NFL draft, only four remain on NFL rosters.

Essentially, this quarterback class IS Cam Newton and Andy Dalton.

Cam Newton vs Andy Dalton

QB GAMES RECORD CMP ATT CMP% YDS TD INT RATING
QB GAMES RECORD CMP ATT CMP% YDS TD INT RATING
CAM NEWTON 111 63-46-1 2,050 3,491 58.72 25,570 161 95 85.6
ANDY DALTON 111 65-44-2 2,262 3,626 62.38 26,042 173 94 89.1

Newton’s closet is loaded with individual records, sure. But Dalton’s influence tends to gravitate toward sustained team success. During his senior season, he led the Katy High Tigers to the State Finals, throwing for 2,877 yards and 42 touchdowns that season. During his junior and senior seasons in college, TCU compiled a 25-1 record with a highlight win over No. 4 Wisconsin in the 2011 Rose Bowl.

And of course the Bengals have sported winning seasons during five of his first seven seasons in the NFL — with each winning season leading to postseason qualifications.

Sunday’s game will be the second meeting between these two teams since Dalton and Newton entered the leage. The first...

Tie goes to the kicker. The score was tied at 31 with 3:36 remaining in the fourth.

It was cloudy with a light northeast breeze when Cincinnati hosted Carolina four years ago. You remember, right? Just like yesterday.

Cam Newton took the shotgun snap from the Panthers’ 29-yard line. After a Terminator-like scan across the field, Newton felt the presence of Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry approaching. He targeted rookie — and BFF — Kelvin Benjamin over the middle.

It sailed high.

Reggie Nelson secured the football, scampering around for 31 yards on the return. Three plays (and one nullified 22-yard touchdown by Jeremy Hill) later, Cincinnati took a 34-31 lead with 2:16 remaining. This was great. We were going to win!

Carolina responded.

Graham Gano converted a 44-yard field goal, finalizing an 11-play scoring drive, to send the game into overtime.

Cincinnati opened with a field goal on a 13-play drive. Carolina matched with their own field goal, capping a 12-play drive. Ugh. Field goals. Cincinnati resumed from its own 20 with 2:19 remaining. Dalton chipped away with an eight-yard shot to Jermaine Gresham, another seven yards to Dane Sanzenbacher, and five to Mohamed Sanu. James Wright hauled in a 24-yarder and Charles Johnson was flagged for roughing.

Eventually, there were two seconds remaining. Cincinnati had second down from the Panthers’ 18-yard line. Easy chip shot. Mike Nugent has this. This was great. We were going to win!

Wide right.

A 36-yard field goal... wide right?

Game over. Cincinnati and Carolina tied! I remember.

Unbelievable.

That was the lone thought rattling in my head when Mike Nugent’s 36-yard field goal sailed wide right. Unbelievable... a tie? Is that better or worse than a loss? Percentage-wise it helps but it burns Cincinnati if tiebreakers are used for the division championship (Baltimore crushed Carolina earlier this year). A tie. What a rip. When it was over, I had to step away. Leave the computer alone. Flip the phone into silent mode. Have dinner. Something... anything.

This was Nugent’s sixth miss of the season. Something clicked after that. Of the next 16 attempts that season, Nugent converted 15, earning two more years in Cincinnati.

No one was happy, especially one of the team’s more vocal players at the time.

“We were in a perfect position to win the game, two seconds left on the clock, we’ve got to win the game,” cornerback Adam Jones said. ”Everybody in here gets paid to do a job and that’s what everybody needs to do.”

Agreed. Newton completed five of seven passes during Carolina’s lone overtime possession, adding 29 yards on the ground. If the defense stopped Newton, Cincinnati wins. While Nugent received significant (and understandable) blame, his teammates were hardly blameless.

Honestly, these trips down memory lane aren’t healthy.

Speaking of health. Running back Joe Mixon underwent arthroscopic surgery on Saturday to remove a “small particle” that was dislodged in his knee last Thursday against the Ravens (Read: The Dangers of Thursday Night Football). According to reports, he’s expected to miss a few weeks. Based on one timeline, he should be back by Week 5 against the Miami Dolphins — the same week linebacker Vontaze Burfict will return.

“It felt weird,” he said. “My knee was hurting. Other than that, it’s just the mental side of it. You always want to play at 100 percent (health), but when something is bothering you it’s hard mentally. I just had to check back in mentally and physically tough it out. And that’s pretty much what I did.”

Mixon told reporters Wednesday that he suffered a “slight meniscus tear,” adding that he feels great his return will be “his call.” Cincinnati will approach Mixon with understandable caution while monitoring his rehabilitation.

In the meantime, backup running back Giovani Bernard is expected start. When Cincinnati battled Carolina in 2014, Bernard posted a career-high 137 yards rushing, including an 89-yard touchdown.

Joining Bernard will be the newly signed Thomas Rawls, who arrived in Cincinnati on Wednesday. Rawls spent three seasons in Seattle with his rookie year being the most prominent. After going undrafted, Rawls navigated a minefield of injuries in Seattle’s backfield before making his first NFL start on Sept. 27, 2015. He ran for 104 yards in that game. Throughout his rookie campaign, rushing for a career-high 830 yards, Rawls had multiple 100-yard performances including a 209-yard effort against the 49ers and 169 yards against the Cincinnati Beng... nevermind.

Rawls replaces Tra Carson, who was waived due to an injury suffered during Monday’s practice.

Cincinnati also lost starting rookie center Billy Price to a sprained foot and Michael Johnson to a sprained MCL. Neither are season-ending.

Football is a violent sport. Injuries happen. It’s part of the game... and sports. That being said, we ran a column about the dangers of Thursday Night Football as it relates to the increased probability of players being injured — Baltimore’s C.J. Mosley also suffered a bone bruise. And while I won’t go into diatribe about it, the threat Thursday night games pose to players is real.

Quick starts and reliable paths to the postseason. Since 1990, when the league adopted the current playoff format (12 playoff teams), teams with 2-0 records qualified for the postseason 62.28% (142 out of 228 team) of the time. There’s a morbid sense of obviousness here: The more football games you win, the greater your chances are of making the postseason. It’s like your keys to a game being: Rush the quarterback, protect the quarterback, don’t turn the ball over, create turnovers on defense, and score touchdowns instead of field goals. You know, mind-blowing ideas on how to win games.

Anyway, the Bengals have started eight seasons at 2-0, qualifying for the postseason four times (1990, 2005, 2014, 2015). If the NFL excluded the Bengals in this narrative, the league’s overall percentage increases from 62.28% to 62.72%. The seasons Cincinnati didn’t qualify (1992, 1995, 2001, 2006) were decimated by extensive losing streaks and a failure to close seasons (looking at you ‘06).

Quick story. Gather around, kids.

The ‘06 Bengals, 8-5 heading into Week 15, definitively collapsed. It began with a highly anticipated battle between Carson Palmer and Peyton Manning on Monday Night Football. Indianapolis took control immediately. Manning won with four touchdowns and a Colts 34-16 win.

The following week, T.J. Houshmandzadeh capped a 90-yard scoring drive with a 10-yard touchdown with 41 seconds remaining. According to the league’s postseason scenarios at the time, the Bengals had two postseason paths:

  1. Win, plus losses by the Jets (who beat Miami) AND Bills (who lost to Tennessee) OR;
  2. Win, plus losses by the Bills (who lost to Tennessee) AND Jaguars (who lost to New England)

Great!

Scenario number two applied. All the Bengals needed was the ensuing PAT, and then an overtime win. Kyle Larson couldn’t handle Brad St. Louis’ misfired snap and Cincinnati lost 24-23. #$@TAGJLAKGJ$

Week 17 scenarios:

  1. Win and a Jets loss
  2. Win and a Broncos AND Chiefs loss

No go.

The Jets beat Oakland 23-3, and the Chiefs won 35-30, eliminating the Bengals.

At least pride remained with Cincinnati hosting Pittsburgh on New Years Eve. A Jeff Reed 35-yard field goal sent the game into overtime and immediately ended with a Santonio Holmes 67-yard touchdown.

In fairness, this was the old Bengals.

The new Bengals are made of tougher substance, with Dalton, A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, refusing to falter (against Baltimore) while making dramatic comebacks (against Indianapolis). Right?

If Cincinnati defeats Carolina this weekend, they’ll be 3-0. They’ve been 3-0 on five occasions since 1990, making the playoffs four times (1990, 2005, 2014, and 2015). The one team that missed the postseason? That damned 2006 squad.

In honor of reports that Maroon 5 will perform at this year’s halftime show (a horrible choice), here are two halftime shows from our favorite Super Bowls.

Super Bowl XVI:

Super Bowl XXIII: