Questions of Dalton will continue to linger

INDIANAPOLIS — Quarterbacks ultimately are judged on one stat: wins. More specifically, playoff wins.

Andy Dalton didn’t have one in his first three tries. He didn’t get one Sunday in his fourth try. Dalton wasn’t awful in the Bengals’ 26-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, but neither was he the reason the Bengals got over their postseason hump. When the Colts took away the Bengals’ running game, they needed Dalton to make plays with his arm. He couldn’t. Or didn’t have the right weapons to go against an Indianapolis defense that knew he didn’t have the right weapons.

So Andy Dalton is going to have to live with another offseason of questioning whether he is the right man to be the quarterback of the Bengals. Is he the guy that can take the Bengals to more than just an extra week of practice?

"I think there’s a sense of accomplishment there, but you’re going to be judged on what you do in the playoffs and we haven’t won yet," said Dalton.

Dalton completed just 18 of 35 passes for 155 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown and neither did he throw an interception. He didn’t have A.J. Green, his top receiving threat. He didn’t have Jermaine Gresham, who had caught more passes than anyone else on the team with the exception of Green. He targeted the four wide receivers he did have — Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Greg Little and Cobi Hamilton — 15 times with passes. He completed just three of those balls, all to Sanu, for 31 yards.

The Colts knew they could sell out against the running game, focus their attention on Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, and to make Dalton beat them.

That just wasn’t going to happen. That’s not the quarterback Andy Dalton is. The Colts can put that kind of responsibility on Andrew Luck and he’s going to come through more often than not. Luck completed 31 of 44 passes for 376 yards and one touchdown. His numbers would’ve been better if not for a couple of drops by his receivers in the first half. It didn’t matter, Luck kept slinging the ball.

The more Dalton slings the ball for the Bengals, the more their chances of success drop. They’re at their best when they’re running the ball, allowing Dalton to make good decisions and then running the ball some more.

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Every quarterback needs help, some less than others. That isn’t Dalton. When the offense is facing an average of less than five yards on third down, it’s a good situation for Dalton and the Bengals. That’s what happened on the first seven third downs Sunday when the Bengals converted four of them and went into the locker room at halftime trailing by just three points, 13-10.

When the offense is facing longer yardage, like the average of 8.8 yards it needed over the next six third downs, things aren’t so easy. The Bengals didn’t convert any of the six, including going three-and-out on their first four possessions of the second half.

"I thought Andy played a good football game, so I don’t know what kind of criticism will be on the quarterback here," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "He’s going to be disappointed because we didn’t win, but I think he did a good job at doing his part today, and that’s all we can ask of the guys. You’re not going to make any super human plays."

No, that’s not Andy Dalton. Never will be. But he can still be more than he was on Sunday, with or without Green and Gresham. The Bengals need him to be more.

They’ve got another year to wait to find out if he can be more.

"I just know that as an offense in the playoffs and in big games you’re going to have to have huge plays to win," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "Whether that’s throwing it or catching it or running it it’s going to have to happen. You see it every week. You see the top guys take over games and lead their team to victory."

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