The Cincinnati Bengals lost their third consecutive Wild Card playoff game Sunday, falling to the San Diego Chargers 27-10. Football is the ultimate team sport, but after quarterback Andy Dalton accounted for three turnovers in the second half, there was no doubt that he'd shoulder the majority of the blame.
“Obviously, there is going to be a lot of criticism and talk, but until you win and prove people wrong, people can say whatever they want," Dalton said after the game.
Dalton sounded like a teenager who'd just gotten caught sneaking out of the house, fully aware that verbal lashings were headed his way. He'll likely do his best to avoid all media outlets over the coming weeks, but it'll be impossible to block out the negative noise entirely.
Instead of jumping all over Dalton for his individual mistakes, let's take a step back and look at his body of work in 2013. He finished third in the NFL in touchdown passes with 33 and seventh in passing yards with 4,296.
Taking a more holistic look at his first three years in the NFL, he and Peyton Manning are the only two quarterbacks to throw for 3,000 yards in their first three seasons. Dalton is also one of just five NFL quarterbacks to lead his team to the playoffs in his first three years in the league.
Sure, he's struggled with his completion percentage and has thrown too many interceptions throughout his career. It's tough to argue against those stats, they are what they are. But can you argue that the raw talent isn't there?
Prior to Dalton's arrival, the Bengals had made the playoffs just twice in 20 years and were a team defined by Chad Johnson's egomaniacal touchdown celebrations and Carson Palmer's public strife with owner Mike Brown. Things are a hell of a lot better now than they were then.
I understand that a common rebuttal to any pro-Dalton data point is that Dalton isn't a "clutch" or "big-game" quarterback. It's a trait that's difficult to measure, but is it out of the realm of possibility that these failures are priming him for playoff success in the future? Are players chained to being designated as clutch or not clutch three years into their career?
There's no well of guaranteed playoff-winning quarterbacks available to the Bengals organization. The chances of finding one in the draft are extremely slim, and acquiring another young quarterback with playoff victories under his belt is out of the question.
In his article titled "Andy Dalton is not the Answer for Bengals," Peter Smith of fansided.com argued that the Bengals have a "turnkey" offense that's ready for a quarterback to have success. However, there's no such thing as a turnkey offense, and serviceable NFL quarterbacks are anything but a commodity.
Nobody wants to be told to be patient. We're programmed to seek instant gratification, and when we don't get it, it hurts. In the case of the Bengals organization and their fanbase, they'd be well-served to be just that and not overreact to a few untimely turnovers.
This is a very talented football team, and Dalton will likely have a chance to prove people wrong in the playoffs next year.
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