Andy Dalton most certainly has had his ups and downs during his first two years in the NFL.
Many Bengals fans and NFL pundits poured blame upon Dalton after the loss. The biggest knock that was brought up was the fact that he is now 0-2 in the playoffs with zero touchdowns and four interceptions in those games.
Many different facets of Dalton's game have been brought up in recent days. He has been criticized about his hesitancy to release the ball, his jumpiness in the pocket and his ability to throw the deep ball.
Yes, these are all things that Dalton needs to improve upon, but one must keep in mind that he is still only a second-year quarterback. Most quarterbacks finishing up their sophomore season still have plenty of attributes to strengthen.
A quarterback heading into his third year is a very telling sign of what is to come in the future. Dalton knows this. Bengals fans and pundits alike should wait and see what kind of improvements he makes over the offseason before they begin to call for a change.
If you do not agree to this point, let's take a look back at some other very prominent Bengals quarterbacks throughout the years and compare their numbers with Dalton's.
In Dalton's first two years in the league, he has thrown for 7,067 yards, 47 touchdowns against 29 interceptions and also added 272 rushing yards with five touchdowns on the ground. In both seasons, Dalton has posted better than an 80 passer rating (83.9 average). In the regular season, Dalton also holds a 19-13 record.
Dalton's 27 touchdown passes in 2013 was good for seventh in the league and third in the AFC. He was also third in the NFL in fourth-quarter touchdown passes with nine. Keep in mind, that almost all of Dalton's numbers in 2012 were better than his previous season despite being sacked almost twice as much.
Ken Anderson was arguably the best Bengals quarterback in franchise history. In fact, each year Bengals fans get disgusted when he is snubbed from the Hall of Fame.
In Anderson's first two seasons, he posted only 12 touchdowns, a passer rating of 73.6 and a regular season record of 7-10. Clearly, Dalton is well ahead of this curve going into this third season.
Boomer Esiason is yet another Bengals quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl. He is one of the most cherished Bengals icons of all time. This left-handed quarterback perfected the no-huddle offense and had a very dynamic career with Cincinnati.
During Esiason's first two seasons, he managed to throw 30 touchdown passes for a passer rating of 87.3 and ended with a record of 10-8.
Even though he did not play as many games in his first two years as Dalton, Esiason barely got into the positive in his win/loss ratio and only bested Dalton in quarterback rating.
Carson Palmer came into the league as the 2003 No. 1 overall draft selection in Marvin Lewis' first year as head coach of the Bengals. Palmer did not play his rookie season, but let's take a look at his numbers from his first two years as a starter.
Palmer threw 50 touchdown passes for a 90.2 rating in his first two years starting. His overall record in those two seasons was 17-12 with one playoff appearance.
Palmer was a special case as Lewis groomed him behind Jon Kitna during his rookie season. Still, he only threw for three more touchdown passes than Dalton but did not have as good of a winning percentage. He also only made the playoffs in one year compared to Dalton's two.
So, with Dalton working with so many first- and second-year players on offense, exactly how can one judge his future with this franchise before these players are given time to gel?
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is still trying to figure out an identity for this offensive system. For part of his 2012 campaign, Gruden was styling this offense behind an aerial attack. At another point later in the season, he relied heavily on the ground game.
Until this offense finds an identity, there is no telling exactly what some of these players—Dalton included—are capable of accomplishing.
It's a new group, it's a new offensive line, there are a lot of new things, the receiver group, losing a guy like Sanu. The offense was really rolling and playing well when he was in there. A couple of games he had for us, I think a lot of people saw a lot of promise in him. And you have a guy like Marvin Jones get in there. We're still talking about an extremely young offense.
I don't think we necessarily should have an identity yet. We're still trying to figure out who in the world's on the roster. That's kind of how it's been. There are a lot of young players, and we're trying to figure out what they're good at. So we'll evaluate that, I'm sure. The coaches will tell us what our direction is and we'll get good at it."
With the 2012 season now over and done with, Dalton should be given the opportunity to prove to the Bengals fanbase exactly what he is capable of in 2013.
It will be a very telling year for this young quarterback, and he knows it.