- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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With Carolina’s Cam Newton, there’s been shock, awe and a lot of losing. With “the other’’ rookie quarterback that’s been starting all season, there simply has been a lot of winning.
That’s Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, who, very quietly, has his team off to a 4-2 start. Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert was tossed into the starting role after opening the season on the bench, and the same is about to happen with Minnesota’s Christian Ponder.
Newton’s had 400-yard passing games and turned heads with his feet. That’s great, but the only rookie quarterback who is winning regularly so far is the guy who was drafted in the second round. Dalton was taken with the 35th overall pick at a time when it still looked as if Carson Palmer might return and the rookie could develop slowly behind him.
Instead, Palmer stuck to his demand to be traded or released and stayed away from the Bengals. That cleared the way for Dalton to be the No. 1 quarterback right away. The numbers haven’t been quite Newtonesque, but Dalton has had games where he threw for 332 and 298 yards and the Bengals have won their past three games.
It’s not like Dalton was thrown in as a game manager and the Bengals are winning in spite of him. This was a team that couldn’t win with Palmer last season and Dalton has come in and made an immediate difference.
“The quarterback, he is our centerpiece, and we develop offense through Andy,’’ Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. “Everything we do comes through Andy. People asked me, ‘How are you going to be with a young quarterback?’ Well, a young quarterback is going to be our offense and he is going to be what our offense is. You can see what we do and we do it through him. That’s why we felt so good about this guy.”
What Dalton did at Texas Christian was throw accurate passes and win. After an 8-5 record as a freshman, Dalton was 34-3 the next three seasons.
It’s been more of the same since Dalton took over the Bengals. He’s completing 62.4 percent of his passes. Tight end Jermaine Gresham and rookie receiver A.J. Green have made Dalton look good by catching some passes that weren’t exactly where they were supposed to be. But there haven’t been off-target throws.
But the best thing the Bengals might have done for Dalton was to pair him with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. A longtime Arena Football League coach, Gruden puts an emphasis on getting rid of the ball quickly.
That helps limit the pressure on Dalton and eliminates room for potential mistakes, and Dalton’s only getting better. In the past two games, he’s thrown just one interception and been sacked twice. In Sunday’s victory against Indianapolis, Dalton completed a season-high 78.1 percent of his passes and he’s singing the praises of Gruden.
“There is a lot of give and take,’’ Dalton said. “We don’t know anything different. With he and I coming here at the same time, we were both going to have new people around us. It has been great. He’s done a great job calling plays.”
It’s all worked out so well with the arrival of Dalton and Gruden that the Bengals finally put Palmer in their past. They traded Palmer to Oakland on Tuesday because they already had moved on so nicely without him.