When we last saw Andy Dalton, he was leading TCU over Goliath, err, Wisconsin in last January’s Rose Bowl. It was one of – if not THE – finest moment in TCU football history, capping a perfect season and resulting in a final #2 national ranking. Dalton was a conqueoring hero.
What followed for Dalton was something of an seven month whirlwind. The NFL Scouting Combine, where he was very impressive, the NFL Draft, where the Cincinnati Bengals picked him early in the second round. Then came the drawn out NFL lockout, and then a rapid fire training camp that saw him emerge as the Bengals new starting QB.
“Actually, the biggest thing was that I got married,” Dalton smiled when asked about everything that’s happened in his world in 2011…so far.
The bulldog red head was actually in no mood to celebrate the first 300-yard passing game of his young career (322 yards, 2 TD’s) after the Bengals could not overcome the Denver Broncos, falling 24-22 in the second start of his NFL career. Everyone who watched the game had to be impressed with what one observer called Dalton’s “Moxy” and ability to handle the moment. Along with his talents as a quarterback, the reason Dalton is starting in Cincy is because of the bevy of strong character traits that served him so well at TCU.
“I’m the quarterback. It’s my job to be the leader,” he told the media after the game. He was handling the obligatory post-game media session with a no nonsense, “we didn’t do enough to win” demeanor that was beyond his years. He may have been just two games in, but make no mistake, this is already Dalton’s team.
He certainly didn’t play like a rookie either – especially in the second half against the Broncos, when he threw for 270 of those yards and both TD’s while nearly notching his first NFL fourth quarter comeback right before the eyes of Hall of Famer John Elway, known as the King of fourth quarter comebacks. It didn’t happen on this day, but there can be no doubt that it will sometime soon.
That the comeback fell short shouldn’t diminish the excitment of Bengal fans in what they now have…a brand new version of The Dalton Gang. Along with a fellow rookie, spectacular wide reciever A J Green – who made one of the greatest touchdown catches you will ever see – and wideout Jerome Simpson, who merely hauled in an 84-yard catch and run from Dalton that led to Green’s TD catch in the fourth quarter, the Bengals have veteran workhorse running back Cedric Benson and talented tight end Jermaine Gresham. Yes, Cincy has a whole lot of weapons on offense. The second half against the Broncos was being called the young Bengals “coming out party” after the game, and while Dalton was quick to point out the things he and his team didn’t do and what they need to improve on, it was clear that everyone could sense what was now possible for this previously downtrodden franchise.
What they now have talent-wise is already pretty darn good, and will just get better with experience. The group is led by a young bulldog of a quarterback who already plays like a veteran.
No one in Mountain West country…or Wisconsin…is surprised.