By now you know the story about how Andy Dalton came to be the Bengals starting quarterback.
If not, here’s a quick recap:
Carson Palmer wanted to be traded after last season, but Bengals owner Mike Brown wouldn’t budge, so Palmer refused to play. The Bengals drafted Dalton in the second round (35th pick overall). Palmer remained away from the team during training camp. Dalton became the starter.
Many sources thought Dalton possessed the skills to be a first-round pick and a talented starter. Matt Mosley of ESPN.com and FOX Sports called him the “safest” QB in the draft. Still, he was picked behind Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder.
Expectations were low in Cincinnati. The Bengals were coming off a disappointing 2010 campaign.
After sweeping the AFC North in 2009, the Bengals won just four games last season. On top of that, Palmer, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens left the team, making way for Dalton and his fellow rookie, receiver A.J. Green.
Fast forward to the halfway point of the 2011 season. Dalton and the Bengals have surprised everyone with a 6-2 record.
They have a share of both first place in the division and the best record in the AFC.
The defense is playing lights out. After eight games, they rank 10th in passing yards allowed, second in rushing yards allowed and fourth in points allowed.
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Those who follow the Bengals knew that the defense would perform at a high level. What’s surprising is Dalton’s amazing maturity.
In his first two NFL starts, he completed 66.1% of his passes, threw three touchdowns with no interceptions and posted a 105.7 rating. That’s the best passer rating in a rookie’s first two starts since the 1970 merger.
Oddly enough, the only player that did better in his first two starts was Greg Cook (116.6 rating) for the 1969 Bengals, when the team was still in the AFL.
Dalton’s first half of his rookie season was one of the best of all time. He ranks first all-time among rookies in passing touchdowns (12), fourth in completion percentage (61.5), fourth in passer rating (85.0), and fifth in passing yards (1696).
He has a legitimate shot at breaking Peyton Manning’s rookie record for passing touchdowns (26).
Detractors could point to the Bengals' first-half schedule as a big reason for Dalton’s success. Cincinnati has only beaten one team with a winning record (Buffalo), and their opponents have combined for a 26-39 record so far.
Additionally, the Bengals have faced only three top-15 defenses and one top-15 offense in the first half of the season.
The team’s upcoming schedule poses a bit more of a challenge. The next four games are against their AFC North comrades, and they include trips to Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
The Bengals’ opponents in the second half of the season combine for a 36-31 record.
Dalton has had a historical run to start the season. He can really make a statement by succeeding against tougher competition.