AFC North: 2011 Week 13 Rapid Reaction
November, 27, 2013
By Coley Harvey | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiThe Cincinnati Bengals are counting on Andy Dalton to return to the form that helped lead the team to a 4-1 record in October.CINCINNATI -- Earlier this week, Cincinnati Bengals players like cornerback Chris Crocker were adamant in pointing out the urgency they need to play with throughout the month of December.
"It's all about winning in December," Crocker said. "Let's win out and see where the chips lay. Why can't we win out? I don't see why we can't."
If you ask some Bengals fans and most NFL analysts, they'll give you one big reason why they don't believe Cincinnati will be able to go 5-0 to close out the regular season: No. 14.
That's right. To some, the primary obstacle in the way of end-of-season perfection for the Bengals is Andy Dalton, the player who has quarterbacked the franchise into the playoffs each of the past two seasons, and who constantly is trying to prove himself to those who consider him just another member of a mostly failed 2011 quarterback draft class.
For that reason, as the Bengals gear up for a stretch run that could give them a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs, an important question has to be asked.
Can December Andy mimic October Andy?
As we've written countless times in the past month, October Andy was indeed a dandy. Through the first four games of that month, Dalton threw for 1,243 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also completed 67.9 percent of his passes, won four games, had a passer rating higher than 116.0 and a QBR above 83.0. He was, quite simply, brilliant. His play was so sharp back then that on the final day of the month, hours before the Bengals were set to take on the Dolphins in a road Thursday night game, he was named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Month.
And, yes, even though, comparatively speaking, he didn't look as good overall against the Dolphins and ended up taking the game-winning sack for a safety in overtime, Dalton still had a rather special performance in the 22-20 loss. Aside from not completing a touchdown pass and getting intercepted three times, he threw for 338 yards, marking the fourth straight game he had gone over the 300-yard passing mark.
Overall, October Andy was Good Andy.
But now here comes December with all of its postseason potency. If Cincinnati hopes to set itself up for the type of playoff seeding Crocker believes it deserves, then it will have to play its best ball across the next five weeks. That's especially the case for Dalton and a Bengals offense that has looked rather anemic in the past three games.
One look at Dalton's previous December stats and it doesn't appear the third-year star should have any problem showcasing even a sliver of the success that made him and his team so good about two months ago.
After a rocky December as a rookie in 2011, Dalton was among the difference-makers last season when the desperate Bengals were in need of a strong final month just to secure a playoff berth. One year after going 2-2 in the month, Dalton went 4-1 during December 2012. The lone loss came after the Dallas Cowboys made a field goal in the final seconds to win 20-19.
While the level of desperation may be different this December, the Bengals are looking for Dalton to thrive under similar pressure-packed moments during this one. This time around, the pressure on Dalton mainly stems from the fact that so many are fed up with his play from the past three games. In them, he's thrown eight interceptions and been sacked 10 times. Across the latter two of those games, he's completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes and hasn't posted a QBR higher than 18.0.
Weather factored heavily in Dalton's inability to move the ball in those two games. Windy conditions at Baltimore and windy and rainy conditions against the Browns sent some of his passes sailing and forced others into the hands of defensive backs.
Although weather shouldn't be a concern this weekend in San Diego (the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and a delightful high of 71 degrees Sunday), it could be the rest of the season. Farmer's Almanac projects cold, damp conditions for all of December in the Ohio Valley. It should be noted that after Sunday's game, the Bengals are home three of the next four weeks. Their only remaining road game is at Pittsburgh.
Throughout his career, Dalton has performed better in warmer games. In games with temperatures 50 degrees or higher, he has a 20-14 record, an 85.1 passer rating and a 52.5 QBR. In games with temperatures at 49 and lower, he has a 5-5 record, a 75.4 passer rating and a 32.9 QBR. Dalton's last three sub-49-degree wins came last December, though; a sign that perhaps he's turning a corner in cold-weather contests.
Whatever the conditions and whomever their opponents are, when it comes to the next five weeks, the Bengals can only hope that Dalton turns into the same man who torched through this October.
December, 4, 2011
By Jamison Hensley | ESPN.com
PITTSBURGH -- Thoughts on the Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers game:
What it means: The Steelers ambushed the Bengals to make this a two-team race for the AFC North title. At the very least, Pittsburgh (9-3) will remain tied with the Ravens atop the division and will take a one-game lead if Baltimore loses at Cleveland on Sunday. The Bengals (7-5) essentially fall three games back of the Steelers because of the season sweep, and would only lose hold of the No. 6 seed if the Broncos win. Cincinnati's previous four losses were by a total of 21 points.
"Special" victory: Pittsburgh rolled out to a 28-7 halftime lead with superior special-teams play. First-round pick Cameron Heyward blocked a Bengals field goal attempt on Cincinnati's opening drive. Stevenson Sylvester forced Brandon Tate to fumble on a kickoff return in the second quarter, which led to a touchdown. And Antonio Brown's 60-yard punt return for a touchdown -- he didn't get touched on the runback -- put the Steelers up by 21 points.
Harrison heating up: Pittsburgh outside linebacker James Harrison recorded three sacks for the second time in four games. The Steelers needed Harrison to step up because LaMarr Woodley left in the first half after re-injuring his hamstring.
Roethlisberger rebounds: Coming off a season-low in passing yards last Sunday, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 15 of 23 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 117.3, the fourth time it has surpassed 100 this season. The fractured right thumb doesn't seem to be a problem for Roethlisberger, who was allowed to rest for the final 10 minutes of the game because of the rout.
Flag day for Bengals: Cincinnati committed 10 penalties for 109 yards, and some of them were costly. A.J. Green's false start penalty took away a touchdown on the Bengals' opening drive, and a delay of game then negated a successful field goal. This looked like the Bengals from 2010, not 2011.
What's next: The Steelers have a quick turnaround, playing the last-place Browns on Thursday night at Heinz Field. The Bengals return home Sunday to face the Houston Texans, who lost their top two quarterbacks (Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart) to injuries in November.
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