Eli Manning has received mountains of due praise after engineering a fourth-quarter comeback victory against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Fans of most NFL teams wish they had a quarterback with Manning’s iron determination and unflappable poise. Such wishes would be wasted in Cincinnati because the Bengals have Andy Dalton.
Manning kept the New York Giants in the game last Sunday by making wise decisions. The Patriots did a tremendous job neutralizing Victor Cruz in the second half. Instead of forcing passes to Cruz, Manning checked down to make safer throws, usually to Mario Manningham. Manning’s patience kept his offense moving and kept his defense from having to stop the Pats on a short field.
Dalton, although a rookie, has learned the value of protecting the football. He understands that a strong brain, not a strong arm, is a quarterback’s most important asset. Dalton, like Manning, does not take unnecessary chances, and he is more likely to chuck a ball out of bounds than heave it down the middle of the field. He understands game situation like a veteran signal-caller and does not set his team up for failure.
Manning was not under much pressure in the Super Bowl, but he was mugged in the NFC Championship by the 49ers. Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and the rest of the San Francisco defensive front beat Manning like he burned a Joe Montana jersey. Manning continued to fight. The 49ers sacked and harassed him until his helmet was cockeyed, but Manning kept getting up. This toughness, which none of us had seen from him before, earned Manning greater respect around the NFL.
Andy Dalton has shown resilience as well. In Week 12, he was abused by the Pittsburgh Steelers, so much so that Marvin Lewis handed the ball to back-up quarterback Bruce Gradkowski to keep Dalton from being injured in a game that was out of reach. One could see in Dalton’s demeanor on the sideline that he wanted to be under center, even to the detriment of his own health. His fellow Bengals see that, and his grit inspires theirs. Dalton’s resolve is contagious,just like Eli Manning’s.
Most of us were not lucky enough to attend the Super Bowl, but still felt a palpable expectation of success when Manning and the Giants had the ball in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. From our living rooms, we felt something magical was going to take place, and it did. If we felt from our couches that Manning was going to save the day, imagine the confidence his teammates felt.
Manning earned that confidence with seven fourth-quarter comebacks heading into the Super Bowl. Andy Dalton, for his part, led the Bengals to four fourth-quarter comebacks in 2011. He is not at Manning's level yet, but Dalton is building a reputation for leading Cincinnati to victory in the face of defeat. The confidence he has in himself, and the belief his teammates have in him will spread to the fans—no longer will they hope Dalton can bring the team back in big spots, they will know it.
Do not expect Andy Dalton to become Eli Manning overnight. The metamorphosis needs time and victories to take hold. Be patient, Andy Dalton is young. In his early years, Eli Manning didn’t even play like Eli Manning, but just watch.
Dalton’s patience, toughness and poise will make him a Super Bowl caliber, elite quarterback—just like Eli Manning.