For much of the latter half of the season, we've discussed the Cincinnati Bengals' search for "Good Andy," the significantly more popular and successful version of their often enigmatic quarterback, Andy Dalton.
Earlier this season, "Good Andy" turned into "October Andy" following a prolific four-game showing across those 31 days that had him named the AFC's player of the month. Dalton's best performances in October came through the first four games the Bengals played that month. Each of those games resulted in wins; one of them came over future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Another came after he outlasted Matthew Stafford in a quarterback duel on the road. Even the last game of that month, a Thursday night loss at Miami, saw him throw for more than 300 yards.
Across the two games that followed that one, though, he had trouble avoiding opposing defenders. Dalton threw five interceptions in the two games he played in November. His QBR stayed in the teens and single digits in those games, too. "Bad Andy" made the appearance Bengals fans were hoping they wouldn't see at all this season.
Since December began with a Bengals win in San Diego, though, Dalton's October version has shown up again. As the Bengals wrap up the regular season Sunday against Baltimore, they are hoping his strong recent play continues.
It's been said often this season that as Dalton goes, so go the Bengals. It's no coincidence that some of his worst outings came in Bengals losses. It's also no wonder that most of his best numbers came in victories like last Sunday's. En route to beating the Vikings 42-14, Dalton completed 71 percent of his passes for 366 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. It was only the second time this season he had thrown four or more touchdowns, and the third straight game in which he didn't have an interception. He now has five games this season without an interception; all but one of those games have resulted in wins.
Based on some of the things Bengals offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kyle Cook were saying after Sunday's game, it's clear the Bengals have full trust in Dalton and believe that he can see them through.
"He symbolizes what this team is," Whitworth said. "People can talk about this team and what we can't accomplish, and we keep bouncing back and accomplishing it."
As we get going with Tuesday's Morning Stripes, we start with another look at Dalton now that the playoffs are looming for the AFC North champion Bengals:
Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson writes how the Bengals are on "red alert" now that the division title has been clinched. With the red-haired Dalton continuing to play well, the Bengals appear poised to capitalize on the championship once the playoffs arrive, Hobson says.
Speaking of the playoffs, the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy broke down the various seeding scenarios and home/away setups the Bengals could see in the postseason depending on what happens with teams during this weekend's season finales. The Bengals still could be anywhere from a 2- to 4-seed. They also could have a first-round bye, or end up hosting one or two postseason rounds.
There still is much in flux because of what could happen with the Bengals and other teams this final weekend, but assuming Cincinnati ends up going on the road at some point this postseason, it will need to harness whatever has made it so successful at home. The Columbus Dispatch's Bob Hunter wrote about that here. If a 40-point showing and a third-down defensive shutout is enough for a win at home, it ought to be on the road.
With their final game of the regular season coming the same week as the Christmas holiday, several players are spending a little extra time with their families this week. Cornerbacks Chris Crocker and Adam Jones brought their daughters to Paul Brown Stadium on Monday. It was a light day for players. Check out Cincinnati CBS affiliate WKRC's piece on the loose, family men, one day after they clinched the division title.