- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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As Sanu sprinted past the cornerback defending him and tried to maintain separation from the closing safety, he looked to the sky.
What the Cincinnati Bengals receiver saw made his eyes get big.
"I was just like, 'Gosh, what a ball,'" Sanu said, adding a giddy, school-girl laugh.
A catch, two steps and a touchdown dance later, Sanu helped preserve Dalton's perfect passing line at the start of Saturday's 25-17 loss to the Jets. By the time his night was over, Dalton added another Sanu pass and six more to Bengals receivers to finish 8-for-8 with 144 yards, one touchdown and a 158.3 passer rating. Those statistics, combined with his numbers from the preseason opener at Kansas City the week before, make him 11-for-13 with 215 passing yards and a 144.4 passer rating in limited action through the two games.
It's all evidence that Dalton really is playing better and more efficiently than he has at any other point in his career.
"I see it every year, but especially this camp," Sanu said. "I haven't seen him throw the ball so accurate, so efficient. Every time you turn around the ball is just there and you're like, 'Wow."
Dalton contends that nothing has changed from last season. In his eyes, he's still playing the same as he did before and is practicing the same. He may have made a few tweaks and modifications to better his mechanics, but he says everything else is the same. He's still having fun, too.
"When you have a game like I did [Saturday], and you have teammates like I have, it's a lot of fun," Dalton said. "It's not like it just started being fun. It's been fun since I've been here."
It's tough to argue that. From the outside looking in, it certainly seems as if he is more calm and more at ease than he's been at any other point in his career. He seems to trust his receivers more than before and has a better understanding of their routes. And he knows when he delivers the ball a particular way, he expects them to be right there to run underneath it.
Coach Marvin Lewis, bothered by the way players at the back of his depth chart allowed the Jets to overcome a 17-3 deficit to win, didn't have as much to say about Dalton's performance as he probably could have. That had nothing to do with the quarterback. Instead, he was ticked because the back-end play, in his words, tainted his starting signal-caller's strong evening.
"He's on top of his game. He's throwing the football and understands what we want," Lewis said. "Guys are doing a good job with him. He continues to play the way we think he should play all the time. It doesn't surprise me because that's the way he practices all the time. He doesn't have to be flashy, he just needs to be accurate and handle the offense. He does his thing very well."
Next Sunday night, Dalton will be challenged by an Arizona Cardinals defense that ranked sixth last season, allowing a QBR of 39.4. By comparison, the Bengals' defense ranked one spot better at fourth, allowing a QBR of just 39.0 last season.
The nationally-televised game in Glendale, Arizona, also pits Dalton against the man he replaced: former Bengal Carson Palmer. On the biggest stage he'll see this preseason, it'll be interesting to see if Dalton continues to grow.
20mEric D. Williams
13hEric D. Williams