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I'll be back.
QB Andy Dalton’s statistics from the wild card game are not impressive.
But Dalton’s team was winning that game right up until J.J. Watt’s game-changing interception.
Once the Bengals couldn’t play with the lead, it was over. The RBs totaled a whopping 76 yards on the day.
Dalton had to pass when a great defense knew he had to pass. On the road.
It did not help the Bengals that emerging WR star, rookie A.J. Green, was shut down for good in the second quarter (largely by former Bengal and current Texan Jonathan Joseph). Green finished with five receptions and 47 yards.
But Andy Dalton kept his cool and played very well under the circumstances.
On the year, Dalton completed 58.1 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns and almost 4,000 yards. He threw 13 interceptions.
The Cincinnati Bengals have found their franchise QB.
The future looks bright with this roster.
Not only do they have one of the very best young signal-callers in Matthew Stafford and All Pro WR Calvin Johnson—they also have rookie WR Titus Young. Young hung with the big boys all year.
The novice pro made 48 receptions for 607 yards and six touchdowns. Not bad for a guy playing behind Johnson, Nate Burleson and two excellent TEs.
In the Wild Card Round, Young managed four receptions and 33 yards in a game where Calvin Johnson put up 211 individual receiving yards.
On the defensive side, the Lions not only have fearsome DT Ndamukong Suh—they also have rookie Nick Fairley. Fairley may have only made two official tackles in the loss to the Saints, but he was a presence and a force on that D-line.
After negative publicity about a work ethic hampered by sleep apnea, Fairley had to battle injury for most of his rookie campaign. But that prime time game in New Orleans showed the entire football nation that Nick Fairley is quite probably going to be everything that Detroit fans had hoped he would be.
This year’s Steelers ramped up their passing game and they have several good young WRs in their first few years in the league.
But their shining rookie stars are of the traditional Pittsburgh variety.
DE Cameron Heyward played in every game this year (11 tackles, sack, forced fumble) and was thrust into the starting lineup when both Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel were injured. He kept pace with starter Ziggy Hood and recorded four tackles.
On the other side of the line, Marcus Gilbert plays both guard and tackle and started 13 games as a rookie. I am positive that Ben Roethlisberger would like to have three more just like him.
Running back John Clay sure looks like a FB to me. Clay famously scored a touchdown with his very first NFL carry. He had a grand total of ten carries in his debut season, but I think he will become a goal-line threat in 2012.
Julio Jones has talent. He makes some spectacular plays. But between injuries and a good-but-not-great showing in the playoffs, I’m not blown away. But I think I might be in future seasons.