Without Andy Dalton playing as well as he did, the Bengals would have likely been blown out by Cleveland.
Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles did everything in their power to give away the game to the Cleveland Browns. They won, but barely. This week, the Cincinnati Bengals also faltered repeatedly in their attempts to beat the Browns, but pulled out a 34-27 win thanks to the arm of quarterback Andy Dalton and a few fortuitous events going in Cincinnati's favor.
Dalton's 24 completions on 31 attempts, for 318 yards, three touchdowns and an interception was the brightest spot for the Bengals on both offense and defense. That performance combined with 10 Cleveland penalties for 103 yards and an Adam Jones punt return for a touchdown to result in a win against a Browns team that in many ways outperformed their Ohioan division-mates.
With receiver A.J. Green held to just seven receptions on 12 targets, for 58 yards and a score while predictably drawing the majority of the Browns secondary's attention, Dalton had to look elsewhere for a receiving outlet.
Last week's clear No. 2 receiver Armon Binns caught all five passes thrown his way, for 66 yards, but it was Brandon Tate with the more productive day. With just three catches, he amassed 71 yards and also added a touchdown to Cincinnati's points total.
Though only six Bengals received Dalton's attention, most everyone made their receptions count. Andrew Hawkins—who has easily become Cincinnati's biggest wild card and Dalton's newest safety valve—had just two catches, but one of them was a shifty, ankle-breaking run that netted 50 yards and a touchdown to take a 31-17 lead in the fourth quarter.
But for all of Dalton's successes, the rest of the Bengals' performance was flat and nearly cost them the game. The Bengals couldn't take advantage of a shaky Cleveland run defense that allowed 150 yards on the ground to the Eagles last week; they had just 80 rushing yards on Sunday (75 of which belonged to BenJarvus Green-Ellis) and averaged only 3.2 yards per carry.
The Browns defense also had a solid day, despite Dalton and his receivers being able to exploit the lack of Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden, who is serving a four-game suspension.
Dalton was sacked six times and often under pressure; his trouble completing deep while under duress also reared its ugly head, though he was able to mitigate this with intermediate passing and a number of Browns penalties that allowed the Bengals to keep moving the ball down the field.
Both the Browns and Bengals had 62 plays and 11 drives. The Browns had 439 total yards and averaged 7.1 yards per play; in contrast, the Bengals had 375 yards of offense on the day and averaged only six yards per play. However, Dalton, and his receivers in particular, were able to make each of those yards count.
This win could have been a loss for the Bengals at many a turn, and though it wasn't the prettiest or cleanest of wins, indeed they pulled it off. Sometimes quarterbacks get undue credit or undue blame for a team's win or loss, but this week, it was all Dalton's work that pulled the Bengals through.