For a football team to be good, there needs to be a lot of talent at just about every position. But for a football team to be truly great, many fans consider the quarterback to be the most important position on the field.
And they might be right. The quarterback is already expected to be a natural leader, both vocally and through his play. The way a team is trending can rest completely on the shoulders of the man under center. They are often tagged as the reason for success in a winning streak—and likewise receive the burden of their team’s defeats under the spotlight.
His journey as a quarterback is still a short one in the NFL. His sophomore season is not yet over, and his numbers have already swung on both sides of the spectrum. He has thrown for as little as 105 yards against the Steelers and for as many as almost 400 yards in several different occasions. He has already battled tipped passes early on in his career, and interceptions looked to be an issue recently. Most importantly, he has been tagged with the curse of being a ginger quarterback.
His name is Andy Dalton. And he may have one of the greatest quarterback stories in recent history.
He spent his college career at TCU, Texas Christian University. As a quarterback there, he set high-flying records, most prominently his number of wins in his four years at the position. That college career culminated into a 21-19 Rose Bowl win over the favored Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers.
It was in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft—the 35th overall pick to be exact. It was the moment the Cincinnati Bengals picked him up, with uncertainty surrounding former quarterback Carson Palmer at the time. And at 6’2,” 215 pounds, and with the number 14 on his back, he was thrust into the starting quarterback position for a struggling Cincinnati team.
His objective: Try to take the reins of a team that had lost nearly all of its star players and lead the franchise away from total disaster.
Everything stood in the way of him even coming close to that feat. His was one of the three youngest teams in the NFL, with very little experience in the league at most positions—perhaps most importantly for No. 14: his receivers. In fact, his leading target became the guy that Cincinnati had drafted ahead of Dalton that same year.
And then there was the lockout. It lasted and continued to eliminate practice time for any of the players in the league. Andy Dalton had just four short weeks to learn the entire playbook of the Cincinnati Bengals. Furthermore, that playbook had been changed dramatically to reflect a West Coast offense that Dalton was used to, under offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
Dalton practiced hard and often, learning the plays in half the time that he would have usually had. He took the team through the preseason and then guided the offense into the regular season, seemingly just after he had started getting familiar with the palybook.
He led the offense of a team ranked last in the NFL at the beginning of the season, into Week 1. With some help from Bruce Gradkowski, Andy Dalton and his team grabbed a 1-0 record to start his career. According to the season projections, the Bengals were going to go 1-15 the rest of the way.
As we all know by now, that didn’t happen.
Andy Dalton caught fire.
He was just supposed to have a successful transition year. He was going to show the coaches he had NFL potential for the next few seasons. What he wasn’t supposed to do was lead the Cincinnati Bengals to a playoff berth during his first year in the NFL.
Dalton threw 20 touchdown passes, compared to a surprisingly low 13 interceptions. He forged a wonderful chemistry between himself and his receivers, including A.J. Green. They quickly learned that if they were open, the football would get to them, and the trust became mutual through the entire offense. All the while, Dalton was learning the playbook through the regular season games.
Then came year two. And with it, the dreaded idea of the sophomore slump. After a loss against the Baltimore Ravens, they rolled off three straight wins, putting much of the doubt in fans to rest.
However, those doubts were resurrected in the midst of a four-game losing streak, and many believed Andy Dalton was finding himself in that very slump that has plagued so many. Despite a lackluster defense and very little running game, much of the stares fell on the play of Dalton as he attempted to save the offense.
With the Bengals’ backs against the wall, he performed a season miracle. He led the underdog Bengals against the defending Super Bowl New York Giants and won in stunning fashion.
That was the start of the three-game winning streak Cincinnati now finds itself on. In those three games, Andy Dalton has tossed the idea of the interception and thrown an incredible nine touchdowns instead, marking the second year he has thrown 20 touchdown passes. Not only is he one of three quarterbacks in the history of the NFL to accomplish this (the others are Peyton Manning and Dan Marino), but it has the Bengals on the heels of another magical December playoff run.
We all know most of the story about our quarterback the last two years. We remember some bad losses, but we also hold all those fantastic fourth-quarter comebacks close to home as well.
So, when we think about Andy Dalton, remember this story. Remember his story. How he got here, what he’s done and what only dreams can describe for the quarterback’s future.