The Cincinnati Bengals are the Schrodinger’s Cat of recent NFL postseason memory: they are simultaneously on the cusp of venturing deep in the postseason while also unable to get out of the first round.
Despite these frustrations that confound Bengals fans, quarterback Andy Dalton doesn’t get discouraged by the past five seasons of playoff appearances coupled with first-round exits. Rather, he remains optimistic, even so far that a franchise that has not won a postseason game since 1990 might make a championship campaign.
“There’s a lot of teams out there that would love to say they have gone to the playoffs for the past five years,” Dalton said Thursday night at Albertsons All Star Gala at the Gaylord Texan. “For us, we’re still looking for that win. We thought we were going to have it last year and it didn’t happen. So, we still got this year to win a playoff game but also make a run at the Super Bowl. That’s everybody’s mindset right now. And this time of year is when you get ready for all of that.”
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In the 60-minute span of a playoff game, the Bengals for the past five seasons have looked nothing like a club that clawed through way through a competitive AFC North to post nine-win seasons or greater to either clinch wildcard spots or hoist division titles. Since 2011, the Bengals’ average margin of defeat in playoff games is 12.4 points. 2015’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium was an agonizing two points.
Dalton, who missed the final three games and postseason game with a broken thumb on his throwing hand, wished he could have helped his team. His desire to play under center is a testament to the competitor inside, not an indictment of rookie backup quarterback A.J. McCarron.
“He did some good things,” said Dalton. “I think he stepped up, he played well, he gave us a chance to win when he was in there. Obviously I would have loved to have been in there, but he made the most of it.”
McCarron went 2-1 in his starts, throwing for six touchdowns and two interceptions and a 97.1 passer rating. Against Pittsburgh in the playoffs in the pouring January rain, he went 23/41 for 212 yards, a touchdown, an interception, and was sacked three times. With 1:50 in the game, McCarron found receiver A.J. Green for a 25-yard touchdown to tie the give the Bengals a one-point lead that unfortunately did not hold.
As things return to normal with Dalton’s thumb healed and off-season workouts set to commence, the more they change. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson departed for Cleveland after the Bengals’ playoff loss, and the club decided to promote quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese to fill Jackson’s vacancy. For the third time since Dalton’s arrival in 2011, he has a new offensive coordinator.
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“I think the transition is going to be pretty smooth, the quarterback to the offensive coordinator,” the two-time Pro Bowler said. “I’m real familiar with him. So, we lost a couple of receivers too. But I think the guys that we got, guys that we’re going to plug in there are going to do good for us.”
Receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones left for Atlanta and Detroit respectively. So far, the front office led by owner Mike Brown has signed free agent receiver Brandon LaFell from the Patriots. Even if no other transactions are made to fill the voids left by Jones and Sanu, fourth-year tight end Tyler Eifert and five-time Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green still provide dangerous targets for Dalton.
Cincinnati’s off-season workouts begin April 18, and the second-round pick out of TCU has been cleared to throw for close to a month now. While unable to play the last three games to close out 2015 along with the wildcard playoff game, Dalton was appreciative for the time away as it helped him grow as a quarterback.
“You gain a new perspective on things. Obviously you’re not out there, but you get to see lots from a different view. So, I think that’s going to help me out.”