Tuning out the noise in the NFL is a skill for a quarterback.
Playing in the AFC North, where Dawg Pounds bark and Terrible Towels twirl, it’s an art that Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has learned to master.
It’s not that Dalton doesn’t hear the noise. He just chooses not to listen. It’s no different from the narrative that has followed him around this offseason.
Making his third postseason appearance in as many years in January, Dalton was again one and done. After three straight years of being bounced in his first round of the playoffs, the outsiders have said he can’t win the big one. The ones who matter trust that he can. Why? Because he has done it before.
After a three-turnover outing against Boise State in a Fiesta Bowl loss during his junior season at TCU, Dalton heard the noise. He refused to listen.
Instead, he piloted TCU to Pasadena in an undefeated senior season (13-0). Lining up against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, a team that featured future NFL talent like quarterback Russell Wilson, running back Montee Ball and defensive end J.J. Watt, Dalton was poised and efficient.
“The experience of that has helped me,” Dalton told FOXSports.com in a phone interview. “Definitely having those experiences helps. Not winning the Fiesta Bowl my junior year and then coming back undefeated and winning the Rose Bowl helped me grow as a player and made me better. I feel very confident with what I have here in Cincinnati and what I’ll be able to do this year.”
While Dalton catapulted up the draft boards, Cincinnati had its franchise quarterback holding out and demanding a trade. Ownership wasn’t budging, though, and selected Dalton in the second round.
In 2011, Carson Palmer held true on his promise, opting for retirement instead of playing for the Bengals.
A broken collarbone to quarterback Jason Campbell in Oakland set off a chain of events. Then-Raiders head coach Hue Jackson helped build the framework for “the greatest trade in football,” landing Palmer for first- and second-round picks.
That brings us to 2014. Jackson is now the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati; Campbell is the Bengals’ backup quarterback. Jackson has unrolled a quarterback-friendly system that is sure to fit Dalton’s skill set.
“It’s crazy how it all worked out,” said Dalton, who was promoting a recent commercial he shot with Pepsi running Sept. 9 in which he surprises Bengals fans with tickets to a preseason game at Buffalo Wing Wings. “There’s a lot of pieces that went into the way it started. It has been a lot of fun to see the growth of the team and see what we’ll be able to do this year.”
Dalton has looked sharp this preseason. He credits the first team’s production and the way his teammates are playing together with confidence.
When Jackson was promoted from running backs coach to offensive coordinator after Jay Gruden accepted the head coaching role in Washington this offseason, he was quick to get his hands on Dalton. The demanding coach plans on getting the most out of his players.
“[Jackson and Gruden’s] styles are a little bit different,” Dalton said. “I think what we’re going to do with Hue is going to be good for us. As far as the system, it’s similar. I just think we’re trying to do things a little bit faster this year. We’re trying to run more plays. It’ll make it easier to pick up first downs and move the chains. That’s the big difference is how quick we’re going.”
Armed with a contract extension that pays him $18 million this year, the 6-foot-2, fiery-eyed, strong-armed slinger from Texas understands the Bengals bet big on his future. It’s funny, though. He insists life hasn’t changed much.
“It hasn’t,” Dalton said. “There’s not a whole lot that’s new going on. I think the biggest thing is we know we’re going to be here for a long time and we’re glad it’s all behind us.”
The expectations, though, have never been higher. The noise has never been louder.
If history is any indicator, Dalton’s play will do the talking.